When we are showing a vacancy, we are usually in one mode: get it rented.  We want the best qualified applicant as soon as possible. We want to find out as much about the person either prior to completing the application.  It saves us time right? The more we know sooner, the easier it is for us to weed out the bad candidates. So we ask questions to get some answers and satisfy our curiosity.  

Sometimes we are just making friendly conversation and we tend to forget that in the role we are as landlord, what we say to tenants and prospective tenants is scrutinized.  So what was meant to be a friendly conversation point about the person may turn into a complicated Fair Housing complaint down the road.   

Here’s a list of questions that will you should avoid asking potential renters.  Some seem innocuous but can be construed as seeking for discriminatory information.  

Where were you born?

This seems harmless but since its asking for information about a protected class (national origin) and it has no bearing on their possible performance as a tenant it’s on the no-no list. 

Tell me about your children.

Familial status is a protected class. Phishing for information about the children’s age, grade, etc is a potential Fair Housing lawsuit  Wait to find out information about the kids from the application. 

Do you need to know where the nearest [mosque, temple, church] is?

No. No. No.  You are inquiring about their religion, which again has no bearing on the application.  If they ask you where the nearest worship location is, that’s different because you are answering their question.  When you someone appears at a showing in unusual religious clothing, don’t make it a point of conversation

You have a nice accent. Where are you from?

This is also a question that inquires about national origin or ethnicity.  Your finding out someone is Welsh, Russian, etc which is something that should not have any bearing on their application.  This is a hard one for me to follow because I love accents.  

Do you have a disability?

….No. Just no   It’s rude. It’s common courtesy.  It’s a violation of Fair Housing.  

Do you have a service animal?

You can ask if they have pets but not specifically service animals.  Let the conversation flow naturally. Ask if they have pets, then if they do inquire about the breed, weight and other characteristics you want to know.  If the pet is something you don’t accept you can say so. That is when most people will tell you it’s a service animal. You are still getting the information about pets but you are letting them tell you its a service animal.

You can still find out a decent amount about your applicants without probing in areas you shouldn’t.  Be methodical with your questions and don’t forget as a landlord doing a showing you are held to a higher standard with your conversation. 
Here’s a list of common questions that are still ok to ask:

  • Do you have any pets
  • When are you looking to move?
  • How many vehicles do you have?
  • Why are you looking for a new place to live?
  • Do you smoke?
  • Does your current landlord know you are thinking of moving?
  • Do you have any questions for me about the process?

That last one is a GREAT question to ask.  It opens the door for them to tell you what might be concerning them about the application. If they are offering you the information without you phishing for it it becomes fair game.