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5 Questions NOT to Ask a Potential Renter

We’ve discussed some of the questions that are important to ask a potential renter, such as the number of occupants and pets, income, and references.  But did you know that there are questions that you as a landlord cannot ask your applicants? In fact, asking the wrong questions can open you up to legal investigations and lawsuits.  Some of these taboo questions may seem like common sense, but others can seem innocent or merely conversational.  Let’s discuss the five top questions that Anchorage landlords need to avoid asking their potential renters.

Do you have a service animal?

This is a question in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act and the Alaska Landlord/Tenant Act.  Asking or making assumptions about race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, or disability are illegal under these laws.  Check out our blog on avoiding other Housing Act violations here.

Have you ever been arrested?

In the United States, we presume that someone is innocent until proven guilty.  It is not unheard of for someone to be arrested that is later cleared of all charges or found not guilty by a court of law.  It is ok to ask about federal or state convictions; these can be found on a simple background check, but asking about arrest history will get you as a landlord in trouble fast.

Are you on welfare or disability?

As a landlord, you are allowed to, and should, determine if a person can afford your rental unit.  You are even able to request an employment history and references.  It is also advisable to do a credit check on each applicant.  However, discrimination towards an applicant based upon how they get their money is treading on shaky legal ground.  It’s best just to avoid asking questions about public assistance altogether. 

Are you retired?

Again, you should determine if an applicant can afford your unit, but asking any question about age should be carefully avoided.  Other discriminatory queries related to age can include, “Would it be easier for you to have a lower level unit?” or “Would you prefer to be in a quieter unit near other senior citizens?”. 

How many kids do you have?

This is another violation of the Fair Housing Act and could lead to discrimination based upon familial status.  The same goes for questions like, “When’s the big day?”, “Are you two married?”.  You are allowed to ask how many occupants will be in a unit, and you are also permitted to require that all residents over the age of 18 be on the rental agreement, but avoid asking questions about a person’s marital or familial status.  It is also important not to steer renters with children towards one unit or another.

The best rule of thumb is to only ask questions of one applicant that you would ask any other candidate.  Focus on asking questions that help you determine if an applicant will be a quality tenant:  Will they take care of your property and will they pay the rent?  Having a standardized process is definitely in your best interest. 

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