Screening tenants is a tedious but necessary part of the leasing process for your Lancaster rental property. Without a careful screening process, you open your property up to trouble tenants, vacancies, and potential evictions. However, landlords have many questions surrounding rental qualifications due to COVID-19. Everyone agrees the COVID-19 pandemic has added challenges to landlords trying to find qualified tenants. So, as unemployment rates rise, many landlords wonder if they can or should accept unemployment as proof of income. Read on as we examine your rights as a landlord below.
What is Tenant Screening? And Why is it Important?
Tenant screening is your first best defense against a troublesome tenant. Besides, the goal is to try to determine who will both care for your property and pay rent on time. So, to avoid disputes, always follow all Fair Housing Laws and hold all prospects to the same qualifications. Nowadays, landlords have a plethora of online options available to them for screening, but consider these typical qualification criteria below.
- Criminal History: This typically covers the past seven years. As the property owner, you need to protect your property as well as the safety of the neighbors.
- Employment and Income Verification: This is another essential piece of the screening process. Prospective tenants must make adequate income to live on the property (three times the monthly rent is standard). Verify with pay stubs or W2s.
- Eviction and Rental History: Screen all prospects for evictions and rent court filings. History of evictions and late payments make that tenant high-risk for similar behaviors to occur again.
- Credit Worthiness: A credit report is the best way to verify someone does not owe a large sum in collections, pays bills on time, and does not have any fraudulent behavior on their record.
Online Tenant Screening Programs Available to Landlords
- AppFolio: AppFolio is perhaps the most popular option out there for tenant screening. All of the items mentioned above can be checked and easily verified through AppFolio.
- Experian RentBureau: Experian RentBureau is another one-stop-shop for tenant screening. Additionally, it is well-liked throughout the property management industry.
- FICO Credit Report/Eviction Search/Criminal Check: If you choose not to use an all-inclusive service, there are other sites available to check individual items such as credit or criminal background. However, checking different places is a bit more tedious and time-consuming.
Fair Housing Laws in Pennsylvania
The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act prohibits discrimination in all housing transactions, including rental homes. Therefore, by law, landlords are not allowed to discriminate against any tenants based on the protected classes below.
- National Origin
- Familial Status
Can Landlords Discriminate Based on Source of Income?
Another qualification that comes up often for landlords is the source of income. Many states and jurisdictions consider a source of income as another protected class. So, as unemployment rates rise amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, landlords find themselves wondering:
- How to qualify someone on unemployment?
- Can they deny someone based on this?
Why is proof of income relevant?
Proof of income is an essential factor because it shows the potential tenant will be able to make the monthly rent payments.
Types of Proof of Income
- Pay stubs
- Tax returns
- Bank statements
- Letter from employer
- Social security documents
- Disability insurance
- Court-ordered payments
- Unemployment documentation
What PA Law Has to Say About Source Income
In Pennsylvania, the source of income is not a protected class. Therefore, a landlord can refuse to rent to individuals who hold a Housing Choice Voucher from the Housing Authority. However, various localities within Pennsylvania have added a source of income as a protected class. Your local government or municipality office can confirm if the source of income is a protected class in your area.
A landlord’s refusal to approve an application because a prospective tenant is not employed could be unlawful discrimination. Especially, if the prospective tenant has other verifiable income that would financially qualify.
Screening tenants is a necessary part of the leasing process to protect your investment as a landlord. Besides, without careful screening, you open your property up to trouble tenants and potential evictions. So, as you navigate rental qualifications due to COVID-19 challenges, carefully consider your options. Whether filling your Lancaster County rental or another location throughout PA, adhere to local laws regarding the source of income qualifications. Are you questioning your rights as a landlord? Unsure how to proceed after COVID-19? Contact a trusted Pennsylvania property management firm to guide you through the uncertainty!