Question on screening/application requirements in Madison WI

6 Replies

We're in the process of having to find our first tenant for a vacant apartment. I have read the Ultimate Screening Guide and written a basic set of screening requirements but still have some questions that hoping someone could help answer (maybe before I have to hire an attorney). 

1) On the tenant resource center page ( I found what seems to say that "unemployment" is a protected class in the city of Madison: 

Madison includes all extra classes in Dane County plus:

  • Citizenship Status (City of Madison only)
  • Genetic Identity (City of Madison only)
  • the fact that a person declines to disclose their social security number
  • Atheism
  • Homelessness
  • Unemployment

That seems a little odd to me. I can screen based on income requirements but not whether someone is employed? Does the income requirements set then supersede any unemployment protected class? Meaning, I cannot deny an applicant if they DO meet the income requirements simply because they are unemployed (maybe the receive disability or other income).

2) For Dane county specifically they list these additional protected classes:

Dane County includes all federal and state protections, plus the following:

  • Physical Condition, Mental Illness, and Handicap
  • Type of Military Discharge
  • Physical Appearance
  • Gender Identity (includes transgender)
  • Domestic Partnership Status
  • Political Beliefs
  • Student Status
  • Receipt of Rental Assistance (such as Section 8)

So, you cannot deny an applicant if they look messy ... I get that, but what about personality? If someone is aggressive and argumentative is it okay to put "agreeable temperament" or "friendly attitude" on your screening requirements?

3) Are there any laws concerning the scenario where you have two applications that both meet your requirements? How do I choose which to go with? Is it up to me or are there laws concerning this (first come, first serve) ?


Updated about 3 years ago

4) Can we put in exceptions to our requirements for referrals from people we "know and trust" or current "approved organizations"? For example, let's say someone does not meet one of our requirements but we have a letter of recommendation from a current tenant in good standing or a friend of ours. Could we write that this is an acceptable substitute for one of the qualifications? Similarly, could we do this with an organization? Say, we work with an organization like the YWCA who tries to find housing for victims of domestic abuse --

Verify 3X income and that should handle your concerns about unemployment. You can ask to see pay stubs. Chances are you won't have two tenant applications that are identical income or credit score. You can pick the better of the two. You are running a business. Keep it professional and don't get caught up in someone's personality. Good luck.

I agree with @Michael S. for the most part; however, if you feel that your prospective tenant will cause problems with other tenants, I don't think you would have an issue denying them.  If you feel they would cause another tenant to leave, that has a direct impact on your income.  Just keep your denials based on whether you will make or lose money and you should be fine, even in the liberal island of Madison!

I don't know the laws everywhere, but I can confidently tell you in Madison you are required to accept the first applicant who meets your minimum rental criteria.

Meaning, if you receive two applications, and the first meets the criteria (should be written criteria so you can provide it to prospective tenants and CYA with fair housing laws if need be), must be accepted. Even if after you receive the application and before your finished processing it, another application is submitted with better credit, income, etc. you are still required to accept the first tenant.

Best of luck!

@Paul Haviland , where is this written for Madison? Can you provide a link to where this law is published? I've never seen this. 

We have very clear criteria, and we process our applications in batches after a day of showings (15 minutes apart). Often we receive more than five applications in a day. All those received the same day are considered together. If we end up with more than one qualified applicant, we consider them "finalists", and then ask all parties if they are still interested. We sometimes have practical questions and reminders for them, for example, "How do you propose your old dog will do climbing all those stairs every day?" or "You know that we require mowing the lawn and shoveling snow, are you still interested?".  We find it common that prospective tenants drop out at this point.  We often only have one remaining  approved tenant who is interested.

We have stringent requirements for credit score in (above 650), and also have a strict policy for no-smoking or burning of anything (no incense or candles). We also encourage gardening. That combination of requirements and preferences has given us a set of excellent tenants.

I'd like to know more about that too. 

Also, is it okay to show the apartment for awhile and collect applications and then process them all at once? Say you show the apartment for a week and take applications and then process them all instead of doing it as they come in. If there are 3 applications that all qualify after that do I have to accept the first person I showed it to? Do I send an acceptance letter to all 3 and whoever puts down the security deposit first? 

We post an ad a week before any showings, but have only one day of showings. Two days only if there are no qualified applicants who decide to sign. I think you should begin processing applications as soon as they arrive.  We only accept one group at a time from the 'finalists'. If they decline then we move on to the next. 

Create Lasting Wealth Through Real Estate

Join the millions of people achieving financial freedom through the power of real estate investing

Start here