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How to Handle Questions Prospective Tenants Ask That Legally You Can’t Answer

by Kevin Perk on June 30, 2014 · 4 comments

  

Prospective tenants like to ask lots questions.

“Who else lives here?”

“Where do the people that live here work?”

“Are there any kids living here?”

These types of questions are to be expected. After all, choosing a new place to live and making a move are pretty big decisions. It is not unreasonable for someone to want to know as much as they can about a potential new home and the people that live there.

However, if you as the landlord answer those questions it could put you at risk or even be illegal. When fielding questions from a potential tenant, it is best to say very little if anything about the other tenants in a building.

Your other tenants have likely shared a lot of personal information with you as part of your application and screening process. You have a responsibility to keep that information private.

Plus, answering those questions could appear to be discriminatory under certain conditions and you do not want to open that can of worms.

How to Handle Questions Prospective Tenants Ask That You Cannot Answer

So how do you handle these questions if you can’t answer them? I have found three responses that work well.

1. Let your Prospective Tenant know about Your Screening Criteria.

Tell them how you screen your tenants. For example you might say that you check credit, criminal and job history and everyone must meet minimum standards.

Add that all tenants have been through this process and have been approved. Explain that it is the same process they will have to go through if they choose to rent your property. This type of response often reduces their concerns about who they will be living around.

Related: Avoiding Rental Discrimination as a Real Estate Investor

2. Tell them that it is Against Company Policy to Reveal any Information about Existing Tenants.

Almost everyone understands “company policy.” Plus, it is true. It is against our company policy to reveal any information about our tenants. Most will simply nod their head in understanding when hearing this response.

3. If they are Persistent, Then You can Pull out the “Discrimination Card.”

Tell them that it is discriminatory to release information and against federal law. Everyone understands discrimination and federal law (well, almost everyone). So using this one usually ends the questions.

Related: Tenant Screening: Avoiding Discrimination Lawsuits

Some folks however just will not take no for an answer. You as the landlord have to be firm.

Do not give in and “whisper” a few details. Like I said, it is not right and could be illegal. You never really know who you are talking to. So landlords, be nice and respectful, but keep your mouth shut.

Has a potential tenant ever pressured you for details on existing tenants? How did you handle it?

Be sure to leave your comments below!

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Salmela June 30, 2014 at 12:21 pm

If a “new” tenant wants some information on my existing tenants I will usually ask my current tenant if I can give the new tenants their contact information. If they agree then I’ll let them talk/email. This happens fairly rarely but it has happened.

I do often get asked about the area and what’s it’s like. I always answer that I’ve never lived here so I’m not the best person to speak to this. I encourage them to go for a walk and talk with people on the street (or even knock on doors).

Reply

Kevin Perk June 30, 2014 at 11:47 pm

Paul,

Yes, the “Is it Safe” question. That can be a tough one too. After all, you are not a cop or an expert on crime, so you have to be careful what you say.

I have it good in that regard in that I live in the area of my rentals so I can say that I live in the area. Seems to help. But talking to the neighbors is always a good strategy. I do it when I am looking to buy a property, tenants should do it when looking to rent.

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment,

Kevin

Reply

stephen June 30, 2014 at 12:32 pm

We take our client’s privacy very seriously. The same way we will for you. So even if we do know it – and we very well may not – we just don’t give out any information about our people. I’m sure you can see our point in protecting our client’s privacy – it’s just the right thing to do. And it is also our policy.

stephen
————

Reply

Kevin Perk June 30, 2014 at 11:48 pm

Stephen,

Well said.

Thanks for sharing,

Kevin

Reply

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