Rules Regarding Prospective Tenants Who May Not Be in the US Legally

One of the most controversial aspects of this election year has to do with individuals who are not living in the United States legally. As a landlord, you may be wondering if you can refuse to rent to someone who is not in the United States legally. There may be several reasons why you may want to refuse to rent to tenants that are not in the U.S. legally including fear they may get deported, and you will lose out on rent. According to the Federal Fair Housing Act; a landlord cannot discriminate against individuals based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status or national origin. According to Nolo in most states asking applicants to provide documentation that they are citizens during a screening and rejecting those that cannot provide such documentation does not violate the Federal Fair Housing Act.

However, certain jurisdictions such as New York City and California prohibit landlords from asking about potential tenant’s legal status. However, even in states that allow landlords to question tenants about their legal status, if a landlord only asks prospective tenants whom they suspect are not in the U.S. legally about their legal status and not all tenants, they could be accused of discrimination.

Another aspect that landlords need to think about if they plan on asking prospective tenants about their legal status is the documentation prospective tenants will need to provide to establish legal status. While landlords in many states can use Employment Eligibility Verification (Form I-9) to confirm legal status, some international students and visa holders may have the legal right to be in the U.S. but do not have legal status to work. Therefore the I-9 form cannot be used to validate their legal status. In those cases, you may need to ask for other documents that prove their legal status.

As a landlord, you need to consider the potential pros and cons of screening for legal status in prospective tenants, assuming that there are no laws in your state or local government preventing you from doing so. In addition, you should always make sure your tenant screening process is consistent with all prospective tenants regardless of race, religion, nationality and other protected factors under the Fair Housing Act. Storing your screening questions and answers in your property management system can help keep you organized and protected against questions about the legality of your screening process.

This post is provided by RISSOFT Residential and Commercial Property Management Software, specializing in innovative and cutting-edge property management software for all 50 states. Request a demo or contact us today to receive more information.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.