It’s natural for owners to want to compare prospects against each other, but beware. Due to the Federal Fair Housing Laws—without a pre-created standard provided to all tenants—this can actually get you in trouble. Here’s an example:

A landlord puts a sign put in front of her duplex for rent. At 9 AM Marie shows up with two children, looks at the property and decides she wants it. While she fills out the application her children run around the yard and are loud. At 10 AM a nice looking young man, Derek, shows up. He tells the landlord he is starting law school at the local university, is actively involved in his church, and that he wants to stay in the place the entire three years he is in school.

The landlord decides Derek is the right tenant for her and puts Marie’s application and deposit in an envelope and immediately mails it back to her without checking any references. If Marie were to make a fair housing complaint, would she win?

Yep. Unless the landlord can prove that Marie was not qualified, the landlord will likely lose this case and incur a $10,000 fine. Marie can even sue the landlord civilly for damages. By not even checking Marie’s references to see if she qualified under a landlord’s rental criteria, the landlord discriminated against her. Derek may turn out to be a better tenant, or he may not.

It’s best to check individual tenants out against our own standards and not each other. The only way to prove someone is not qualified is to compare them to a pre-created standard provided to all applicants.

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L. Paul Smith is the executive director of the Utah Apartment Association, a non-profit trade association with a membership of over 1,900. He has a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from Utah Valley University and is a Certified Association Executive, accredited by the American Society of Association Executives. In 2010 Mr. Smith received the Paragon Award from the National Apartment Association and is a current member and past president of the Utah Society of Association Executives. He is currently licensed by the Utah Division of Real Estate as a Sales Agent and Continuing Education Instructor and a current landlord himself here in Utah. His first exposure to the apartment industry was in 1996 as a leasing agent in the Salt Lake Valley.