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Questions to ask and avoid when interviewing prospective tenants

On Behalf of | Oct 3, 2023 | Real Estate Law |

What do you look for in a tenant for your residential property? Most landlords try to find renters who won’t cause any damage or disturb the neighbors. Of course, the ability to pay the rent on time, every time, is probably also a priority.

Do you have a process to vet your prospective tenants? Usually, this involves an interview and various screening procedures (such as a credit check). Speaking with your prospects can reveal much about them, but you must be careful about the questions you ask.

Why the need for caution?

You may know that you must be careful not to discriminate against prospective tenants under federal and California housing laws. Unfortunately, it is easy to violate these laws when speaking with your candidates.

Establishing some guidelines for your interview process may help you avoid missteps that could lead to litigation. Keep things simple by knowing what you can and cannot ask.

Safe topics generally include:

  • Employment and annual or monthly income
  • Rental history going back a few years
  • Prior evictions

You may ask about criminal convictions without violating anti-discrimination laws but don’t ask about charges or arrests that did not lead to conviction.

Avoid these topics:

  • Personal characteristics such as race or religion
  • Family characteristics like pregnancy plans or number of children
  • Specific income sources such as government benefits or public assistance

To recap, it is usually okay to ask questions about a tenant’s ability to comply with lease terms, but you should refrain from questioning them about personal matters.

Remember to stay current with housing laws on the federal and state levels, as they can change without much warning. For an extra layer of protection, it’s wise to have experienced legal guidance.