Can a Landlord Ask About Immigration Status? Answered with Tips on How to Comply with Law

As a landlord, it’s natural to want to know as much as possible about your prospective tenants before renting out your property.

However, it’s important to understand that there are certain boundaries you cannot cross when screening tenants. One of the most controversial topics in this regard is immigration status.

So, can a landlord ask about immigration status?

The short answer is no, landlords are not legally allowed to inquire about a tenant’s immigration status. Doing so could be considered discriminatory and a violation of fair housing laws.

The Fair Housing Act Prohibits Discrimination Based on National Origin

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on national origin, which includes discrimination against individuals who are not US citizens or who may not have legal status in the country.

As a landlord, you cannot refuse to rent to someone solely based on their immigration status or make any decisions that may be influenced by their national origin.

So for example, a landlord may not refuse to rent to persons whose primary language is not English. Nor can they offer different rates based on ethnicity or steer applicants away from certain areas based on their ancestry.

Can Landlords Ask For Immigration Documents Under the Fair Housing Act?

Landlords may request documents and ask questions to figure out whether a potential renter meets their application criteria. For example, they can ask for identification documents (driver’s licenses, passports, and birth certificates are common) and run credit checks to ensure that the potential tenant has the ability to pay the rent and is a solid credit risk.

The rub is that this verification process must be applied uniformly across all potential applications. They key is to not discriminate against people based on immigration status.

Now a specific screening procedure to ascertain citizenship and immigration status may violate the Fair Housing Act, so you should definitely steer clear of that. Source

Additionally, landlords are allowed to ask for proof of income to ensure that a prospective tenant will be able to pay rent on time. This can include asking for pay stubs, tax returns, or other forms of documentation that demonstrate a tenant’s ability to pay rent.

Why You Shouldn’t Discriminate in the First Place

In addition to legal concerns, landlords should also be aware of the potential negative impact that asking about immigration status could have on their business.

Inquiring about a tenant’s immigration status could create an uncomfortable or hostile environment, and may discourage certain tenants from applying to rent the property.

It’s important for landlords to remember that their ultimate goal is to find reliable and responsible tenants who will pay rent on time and take good care of the property.

Focusing on a tenant’s ability to meet these criteria, rather than their immigration status, is the key to finding good tenants and avoiding legal and ethical issues.

Closing Thoughts

In summary, while it may be tempting for landlords to inquire about a tenant’s immigration status, it is not legal to do so. Landlords should instead focus on finding tenants who can pay rent on time and take good care of the property, while also complying with fair housing laws and avoiding discrimination based on national origin.

By doing so, landlords can protect their business and ensure a positive rental experience for all involved.

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