Is it okay to list tenancy requirements in an ad?

9 Replies

We are VERY new to this; we will be leasing out the home we have lived in for eight years and this will be our first rental. Is it general knowledge among renters what is typically expected to lease a property? For instance income being 3x the rent... Is it acceptable to list some basic requirements, such as an income requirement, in an ad? We will be the only rental on the market in our area that has a private pool and for that reason I am concerned we may have a ton of interest from folks that may not qualify.

Absolutely list the screening criteria you use ... you will find that it will help people self-eliminate then you don't have to deal with screening them.  Just be aware that you can't discriminate, so watch your language.  Prohibited in all states is the refusal to rent because of ethnic background, race, religion, sex, sexual proclivity, age, marital status, or income source.  So you don't want to include language that hints that you prefer not to rent to any particular group.

Examples:

  • Okay = "Minimum income = $2,700/month gross"
  • Bad = "This unit is best for a married couple who both work"
  • Okay = "Maximum occupancy 6 persons"
  • Bad = "This unit is perfect for a single couple"
  • Okay = "No smokers allowed"
  • Bad = "No Asians allowed"
  • Okay = "No pets allowed"
  • Bad = "No children allowed"
  • Okay = "This unit is located near Main Street and 23rd Street"
  • Bad = "This unit is located near St. Matthews Catholic Church"

It's totally appropriate to spell out eligibility requirements. Hopefully, it will weed out a lot of applicants. I say "hopefully" because I've found that everyone with sketchy credit has a sob story that somehow differentiates them from every other person with sketchy credit.

Here in Texas there have been some legal opinions written that state a rejected tenant could demand his/her application fee back if you don't list the screening criteria on the application, giving them a chance to see it before they actually pay the application fee.

Just make sure your screening criteria doesn't touch on anything that could be considered discriminatory. And make sure you apply the screening criteria equally to all prospective tenants.

Speaking of which, in just the last week I had to deal with something that I thought was kind of whacky. I was representing a client, newly divorced with full custody of his two children, and looking for a rental house zoned to a specific school. So we put in an application for his top choice.

The listing agent had me deal with the landlord directly, which I thought was kind of weird. The landlord started asking questions about the children: how old they were, would they live there full time, blah blah blah. I told the guy I was uncomfortable with his questions and that I believed they were treading near a fair housing violation. 

The landlord shut up about the kids, but then he started asking about the divorce. He even asked to see my client's divorce decree. I thanked him for his time and told my client that we needed to walk away from this whack job and find another place.

We submitted an application for his second choice, which went through without incident. He and his kids moved into their new home this past Monday.

Fred, I like the way you said legal opinion when you referred to having to give a prospective tenant their application fee back but the law is written very clearly (in Texas) that iF they request a copy of your requirements and you don't give it to them then if you reject them you must return their application fee. However it is possible that any particular justice of the peace might rule differently and even more possible that a jury in JP court might rule differently unless you have a clause in your lease that says "no jury's" which I highly recommend. 

If they don't request it then you don't have to return their application fee if you reject them. However I always return the application fee if I don't end up running a credit report and I do that last so many people get weeded out before I get to the credit report so most of my prospective tenants who are rejected do get their application fee returned.

Damon Duperre

DBM LLC

Listing the criteria in the ad will help weed out people that won't qualify before they waste your and their time. I also have a sheet that lists requirements and give that to all prospective tenants when doing showings. As Dawn stated, make sure you don't discriminate (even by accident) in your screening process. The protected classes are easily remember by FRESHCORN. Remove the vowels and you have: F-familial status. R-race. S-sex, etc. Also know your state laws regarding handling of security deposits, etc. You can usually find the statutes online and print them out if you wish.

Most ads here don't go there, I understand the self-weeding out side. Often, simply saying that income, credit and past housing history must be acceptable let's the duds know they won't be leasing there.

The more you say in public about you qualifying requirements, the more you box yourself in in making accommodations for tenants you would like to rent to. If you advertise that a tenant must make $2,700 gross, then you excluded a retiree on $2,200 a month who may have sufficient savings, or another retirement income that will pay out in 6 months or a young couple where dad will co-sign the lease! 

Another issue with spilling the beans with your underwriting, it just tells scammers the type of documentation they may contrive to get past your due diligence, why make it public? They might get uncle Eddy to say he was the last landlord for 5 years, cousin Bob to give an employment verification just over your limit!  It's nothing at all to change a driver's license!

I'd rather ask them what they make, then prove it, that shows honesty and if they don't qualify tell them after they showed their hand. Don't give people the opportunity to show you what you want to see or they just might!

If you think you want to disqualify the lookers, use general phrasing; generally, income required will be XXXXX, past credit and housing must be acceptable, ability to pay will be considered.  

Being specific ties your hands to exactly what you advertised, don't give others an opportunity to make a complaint and they usually won't!  :)

I like to put in deposit information and rent cost and that applications will be required from every person over 18 for a credit and criminal background check. I try not to put too many more specifics than that but knowing there's going to be a real check weeds out most of the liars and drifters.

Also check craigslist, postlets, etc for how other landlords in your neighborhood/price range are advertising.  And agree with keeping it as general as possible, and always doing a background/credit check before you to rent to someone. There's not enough stories about landlords who met this really nice person and didn't run their checks and got hosed.

And we run credit/background checks on a few qualified applicants at a time so we can return app fees where applicable. 

Yep, great idea! If you value your time as a landlord you will absolutely do this. Reduce call volume, more qualified applications, etc.

Just don't violate fair housing guidelines....

Have you checked with your insurance agent about landlord liability with a pool existing on the property?

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