Questions You Are Not Allowed to Ask Your Future Tenants

So, you’re planning to rent your place for the first time. You must be thrilled to hold tenant screening and such, right? Whatever your answer, it’s not like you can avoid that scenario. Okay, so once you begin your search for ideal tenants, there are a lot of questions you’ll need to ask. Also, there are some questions you are not allowed to ask your future tenants. Questions that will potentially sabotage your search and leave you with some compromises you’d rather avoid making.  

'for rent' sign hanging outside of apartment building in Beverly ma

Wondering what those questions might be? If that’s so, you’ll find them in the article below. We’ve split them into groups for better clarity. 

Group #1: Questions that transgress the Fair Housing Law

The first group of questions that you’d rather avoid asking are questions that violate the Fair Housing Law. To be more precise—you’ll want to avoid any questions that might seem discriminatory towards a certain group of people since that could be seen as discrimination under the federal or that state Fair Housing Law. So, what or whom does the mentioned law protect? 

old books sitting on table

It protects seven classes: 

  • Race, color, sex, religion, nationality, disability, and familial status. 

Also, in many states, additional classes are protected, such as marital status and/or sexual orientation. Let’s provide you with some examples of how those questions sound:  

  • I don’t rent to folks with kids, got any?  
  • Are you a church-goer? 
  • Hey, what’s your native language? 

These might sound like innocent questions to some folks, but others might find them offensive. So be sure to avoid going into that field. Also, refrain from making any comments that might sound offensive. For instance, avoid saying things such as:  

  • The area is packed with minorities; you’re going to love it.  
  • Well, you know, the area doesn’t have a lot of temples. I can’t really say you’d fit in.  
  • Sorry, no animals. That means your service dog, too.  

There’s no need to continue the list. You pretty much get the point. All in all: try to be as considerate as possible. 

person's arms in air, wearing handcuffs

Group #2: Arrest records

Keep in mind that there’s a huge contrast between being arrested and being convicted of a crime. That’s why it’s fine to ask your potential tenants if they’ve ever been convicted of a crime. Still, you simply can’t ask them if they’ve ever been arrested and why. However, don’t think it’s alright to discriminate against someone just because they’ve been convicted. It’s prohibited by law in many states. Of course, there would be an exception if the crime was related to illegal drug trafficking or a history of violence that might put the other tenants at risk. You might have to deal with difficult tenants (regardless of their criminal records), but there are ways you can act if there are problems. Try not to judge before anything happens.  

Group #3: Getting a bit too personal

You’ll find some questions from group #1 here, too. Additionally, you’ll want to avoid asking questions that might sound too personal. Since you want to keep a strictly business relationship with your tenants (one, of course, shouldn’t ask for more), you should avoid some of these:  

  • Are you married/divorced?  
  • Do you plan to have kids? 
  • Will you regularly have people over? 
  • How much do you earn? 
  • Are you gay/straight? 
  • How old are you?  
  • Hey, are you white or Hispanic? 

Even if you’re curious to find out the answer to any of these, remember that they’re not just casual conversation. They could also open the doors to a lot of legal trouble you certainly don’t want to find yourself being plunged into. Also, put yourself in the future tenants’ shoes. You’d also feel a bit uneasy if someone was to pose any of the questions we’ve mentioned above. Keep in mind that you want your future tenants happy.  

That’s right, you’ll want to avoid asking questions outside of what you’d call normal qualifying standards; everyone needs to be treated the same. In other words: there won’t be any extra questions asked just because you’ve somehow figured out a certain potential tenant needs to answer them for this or that reason.

typewriter with the word 'Equality' spelled out on paper

You could very well be accused of discrimination if you don’t follow the same procedure for everyone; add the folks from Miami Movers for Less. They’re quite used to working with folks going in and out of apartments, so you can say they know their stuff.  

Okay, so let’s provide some examples. Imagine that potential tenants showed up at a screening, and you’ve noticed they’re poorly dressed. Now, you can’t ask them about their criminal history or something, as that would’ve been seen as discrimination. You can’t discriminate because they’re dressed in this or that manner. Treat everyone equally without implementing double standards.  

Feel free to ask for references

Now, in this paragraph, we won’t talk about questions you are not allowed to ask your future tenants – we’ll talk about what you’re able to ask. Yup, it’s completely fine to ask your future tenants for references. If you ask us, not asking for references is totally out of the question. So, how does one do this? Simply ask them if they can provide you with name references from their previous landlord, employer, or one or two personal contacts. You’re absolutely entitled to calling each and every one of them, and there’s nothing wrong with doing so. However, don’t be selective. All your potential future tenants should give references.

The bottom line on questions you are not allowed to ask your future tenants

That’s about it when it comes to questions you are not allowed to ask your future tenants. Also, be prepared to answer some questions yourself. So, what have we learned today? Here’s the main thing: don’t ask any questions that might make your future tenants feel offended or insulted in any manner. As we’ve said, put yourself into your future tenants’ shoes. Not to mention that you could easily get into legal trouble because of the questions we’ve mentioned above.