Tenant Screening Laws: A Complete Guide for Landlords

Tenant screening laws are designed to protect the rights of both landlords and tenants. Here’s a complete guide for landlords on how to perform screenings following these laws. Continue reading and be knowledgeable.

What are tenant screening laws, and what do they include?

During the tenant application process, landlords should take tenant screening seriously. During the screening process, tenant screening laws should be strictly implemented. These laws regulate everything from keeping a property habitable to the steps needed to evict a tenant. Tenant screening laws include the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination against tenants based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. 

Screening may include credit checks, work and landlord references, personal references, questions about the number of people who will live in the unit, and criminal background checks, including the sex offender registry.

What are federal housing laws?

Federal housing laws are designed to prevent discrimination in the sale, rental, or financing of housing units. The Act covers most housing, including private, public, and federally-assisted housing, and prohibits various discriminatory practices.

The Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act, a federal law, prohibits discrimination in housing sales, rental, and financing based on protected characteristics. Enacted in 1968, it enforces the law by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Housing providers are prohibited from refusing to rent or sell properties based on these protected characteristics. The act also requires reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities. Victims can file complaints with HUD or local agencies.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is a federal law that regulates the collection, dissemination, and use of consumer credit information. It applies to consumer reporting agencies and entities that use credit reports. Consumers have the right to access and dispute inaccurate or incomplete information, while agencies must follow reasonable procedures. Entities must obtain consumer consent and provide adverse action notices. The FCRA also includes provisions for identity theft, fraud alerts, and credit freezes. Violations can result in legal action and damages.

Federal Fair Housing laws: protected classes


Racial discrimination is one of the cases the FHA protects. During tenant screening, a tenant should be given equal rights and opportunities to acquire a house, despite what race they belong to. 


Skin color has been an issue we are still fighting over for over a century now. However, some of the bad practices of not giving equal opportunities to those with dark skin tones remain until now. FHA made a move to protect and give everyone the right to shelter, no matter what color they have.


FHA also encompasses protection for every individual, no matter what their beliefs and practices may be. Religious bias is something FHA wants to address. 


This includes protection for non-binary individuals to acquire the same privilege to obtain a house without regard to their sexuality. 

National origin

Federal Fair Housing laws prohibit discrimination based on national origin in the sale, rental, or financing of housing. This means that it is illegal for landlords, real estate agents, or lenders to discriminate against someone based on their country of origin, ancestry, or ethnicity.

Family status

Landlords, real estate agents, and property managers are not allowed to refuse to rent to families with children or impose different rental terms or conditions based on the presence of children.

Physical and mental disability

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on physical and mental disability in housing sales, rentals, and financing. It also prohibits refusing reasonable accommodations for disabled individuals, such as service animals or property modifications.

Is there an exemption for federal fair housing laws?

Federal fair housing laws provide certain exemptions for specific types of housing and activities. Some exemptions include owner-occupied buildings with four or fewer units, single-family housing sold or rented without the use of a real estate broker, and housing operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members. Additionally, religious organizations and private clubs may be exempt from certain fair housing provisions when it comes to housing provided to members. It’s important to note that while these exemptions exist, they are subject to specific conditions and criteria, and it’s advisable to seek legal counsel or consult the U.S.

In what way does a landlord break the law when screening applicants?

A landlord can break the law when screening applicants by engaging in discriminatory practices that violate the Fair Housing Act. Examples of illegal discriminatory practices during the tenant screening process include the following:

  • Discriminating based on protected characteristics: This can include refusing to rent to someone, setting different terms or conditions, or providing different services or facilities based on a person’s race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability.
  • Asking discriminatory questions: Landlords should avoid asking questions that could be perceived as discriminatory, such as inquiring about an applicant’s national origin, religion, or familial status.
  • Unequal application of screening criteria: Applying different screening criteria to different applicants based on protected characteristics can be considered discriminatory.
  • Refusing reasonable accommodations: Landlords are required to provide reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities during the application process, such as allowing for alternative methods of communication or making adjustments to application procedures.


Tenant screening laws are designed and implemented to establish protection and order. This focuses on prohibiting discriminatory practices at rental properties. Federal housing laws give both tenants and landlords the right to obtain and keep the property safe and habitable. This prohibits the property owners from taking advantage of their power and refuses to exercise humanitarian laws. Tenant laws aim to protect most, especially the protected classes such as race, color, religion, sex, national origin, family status, and physical and mental disability. This law promotes equality and peace, which is essential for building a good reputation for your business. 

For more information on how we can keep your Sacramento rental occupied, contact us at Eagle Property Management.

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