Screening and Fair Housing

Posted By: Chartrice Young Membership , Screening ,

Fair Housing starts with your screening practices. We all understand the concept of fair housing; however, at times our own personal biases can filter through without even meaning too. To avoid accusations or issues that may be construed as discriminatory, RHAWA takes full measure in providing the resources that help housing providers to navigate the best practices when it comes to fair housing.

The purpose of fair housing is to ensure that individuals who fall within the protected classes are given opportunities to house their families. There are seven protected classes defined by the Federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Each state, county, and city have laws that protect the current and additional classes. Check with the local Office of Human Rights as each city and county may have additional information.

RHAWA provides throughout the year courses to keep housing providers up to date with the Fair Housing Laws. Whenever new changes come about with the Fair Housing Laws, RHAWA updates our forms, so they are current and meet the fair housing requirements.

Communicating with your prospective tenants gives a great advantage to deciding who is the most qualified to be a responsible and reliable tenant for your rental property. But it is so much more than just having a conversation with your applicants, and RHAWA recommends caution when first talking with the applicants prior to giving them an application. Listed here are a few steps to take before you start vetting the applicant.

To ensure that you are following the Fair Housing requirements the first foundation is your screening criteria. The screening criteria will be crucial as it will create the setting of how you will screen your applicants. It sets the stage for you and your applicant so you both know what is expected of each other. The screening criteria is a Washington State law (RCW 59.18.257). It must be in writing. Your prospective tenant will be able to determine if they meet your minimum qualifying requirements and what the screening fees are expected of them to cover. The minimum standards you may want to consider putting in your criteria is: employment history, income requirement, credit history, rental history, criminal records, sex offender records, policies like no-smoking, pets, etc., and required fee and documentation. (Note: In Seattle a decision based on criminal records is prohibited due to the Fair Chance Housing Law). You can visit the RHAWA website and print out the ‘Application Criteria Guidelines’, which will go into greater detail regarding the minimum requirements of the Screening Criteria.

As you get ready to advertise your rental property, avoid using blanket statements or words like ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘no criminal records’ (give the applicant an opportunity to explain the situation), do not use words or phrases that imply a preference for or against people from a protected class.

For the first contact, or also referred to as the pre-interview, create a script to follow so that you can stay within the same interaction with everyone you talk with. Ask questions that are directly related to qualifying the applicant for the unit. Take consideration to your answers with careful responses and respect. Keep to your pre-interview questions to avoid small talk with the applicant which could be perceived as discriminatory or preferential.

Certain topics may come up in the pre-interview or throughout the screening process. Some of the most common fair housing issues that arise during screening are:

  • The request for a disability-related animal even though you have a no pets policy
  • Do you accept rent subsidized programs (ex. Section 8)
  • Familial status and occupancy limits
  • Applicant discloses they have a criminal record or a sex offense
  • The applicant may not have a social security number

Be prepared to reply to questions like these following the HUD requirements. It is best to accept all applications and avoid discouraging anyone from applying. Treat each applicant the same and run the same screening report for your prospective tenants. Give the applicant information on all available units. Don’t assume they will be a better fit for one unit, allow the prospective tenants to choose what is best for their needs.

During screening the prospective tenants, be consistent with your questions and responses.

RHAWA provides tools to help with your screening processes and allows you to keep with the practice of consistency. The QuickApp Screening Portal gives you the tool to keep track of who has applied and paid for their screening package fee in the order they are received. Which complies with the First in Time Law based in the City of Seattle or for those who practice the first come first serve moto. The tools provide the ability to document your applications and screening reports. Remember to document everything!

Fair and effective screening practices starts with having a clear understanding of the Fair Housing Guidelines. To learn more about Fair Housing Guidelines check out RHAWA’s Education ONDEMAND