When you’re looking for a new rental to move into, it can often feel as if you are at the mercy of a biased game where the landlords and managers have all the power. After all, they ultimately get to choose if you can or cannot rent their property!
This means that you’ll probably be ready to answer any questions they may ask you, even if that question makes you a bit uneasy.
While most property managers are great about following the rules, there are some that will ask illegal questions to determine if they want to rent their property to you or not. That’s why it is important for you, as a renter, to know what is allowed to be asked of you.
Let’s break down both legal and illegal questions that can be difficult to answer so that you know how to handle yourself in your next rental interview!
5 Illegal Questions (And What To Do If Asked)
These five questions may seem innocent to some, but there is a set list of Fair Housing Restrictions that prevent landlords from asking questions that can create unfair bias.
Don’t answer the following questions:
- How many children do you have?
- What is your religion?
- What is your familial status?
- What is your ethnicity?
- What is your sexual orientation?
These five questions, among others, are all about restricted topics. Your future landlord is not permitted to use these factors as a deciding point on whether or not you can rent their property. In fact, they’re not allowed to ask about them at all!
If you believe that you were denied a rental because of your race, familial status, religion, or another factor that falls under the Fair Housing Act, you should send in a complaint.
Questions That Can (And Will) Be Asked
On the flip side of those illegal questions, there are some questions that your potential landlord may ask that can still make you feel a bit uncomfortable.
Rest assured that the property manager has a reason for asking these questions, and they are not looking for the perfect answer. Even if they ask about your credit or employment history and you are worried about your answer, there are easy ways to explain your situation.
Let’s run through a list of commonly asked questions and how to respond if you are worried that your answer will reflect negatively on your chances.
Do you keep any animals or pets at home?
As long as the property allows animals, there’s no reason to worry about answering this one. After all, if they don’t allow pets, you won’t be able to live there anyway!
When letting the landlord know what animals you have, be sure to include information about their training, attitudes, and how long you’ve been taking care of them. Including this information will help the landlord see that you are a responsible animal owner that they can trust on their property.
What is your job, and how much income do you have?
This is a question that you will definitely be asked. Landlords and property managers look for proof of employment and income to be sure that you can afford to live in the property. It won’t be good for you or for them if the property is out of your price range.
If you are aware that your job and income may make it seem like you cannot afford the property but you have another means of paying for it, make sure to be clear about his information. Whether you are using an inheritance to pay for rentals or you receive child support from your children’s parent, be clear about the fact that you are aware of the cost and can afford it.
What is your credit score and credit history?
Credit is used by landlords as an indicator of how well you manage your finances and if you pay your bills on time.
Everyone makes mistakes when it comes to their credit score. And the credit score is just a number, after all. If you are worried that your credit score may reflect poorly on your application, feel free to include more detailed information about how you are working to improve your score.
Showing the landlord that you are aware of your financial portfolio and in control of it will help them feel more comfortable in renting you their property.
Do you smoke?
While landlords cannot discriminate against people for their religion or familial status, in most areas it is up to them if they want to allow smoking in their properties or not.
They should let you know if a property is smoking or non-smoking up front. If you are a smoker, be sure to talk directly to them about your smoking habits, particularly if you intend to smoke inside.
While this discussion may lead you to find other properties instead, getting this information cleared up quickly will save both you and the landlord time.
The Questions Matter
Many landlords will ask a ton of questions because they are trying to figure out which tenant among many applicants best suit their property. In some cases, that may not be you, and that is okay.
But it is not okay to be asked illegal questions. If you are ever asked a question that makes you feel uncomfortable, pause and look up the associated laws to find out if you are required to answer or not. Any good landlord will respect that you are doing due diligence, a feature that’s sure to make you a great tenant!
Eric Worral has owned and managed rentals for over 9 years. Currently, he works in marketing at RentPrep.com, a tenant screening service for landlords and property managers. He’s also the co-host of the “RentPrep for Landlords” podcast where he shares tips and insights on managing your rental properties.