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Leasing 101: A Comprehensive Guide For Property Investors

Landlord and Tenant Discussing Lease Agreement

Obtaining and owning single-family rental properties can be a fascinating and beneficial investment. Unlike other types of investments, there are numerous aspects you have to take into account to successfully go from a property owner to a landlord. Suppose you are an El Cerrito rental property owner who is preparing to lease for the first time. In that event, it is imperative to fully understand the basics of leasing strategies and, even more importantly, the laws that now apply to you and your renter. We’ve put together a comprehensive guide to get you started on leasing your first property. By applying these basic guidelines, you can make your first experience a pleasant one.

Renter Screening Process

One of the first and most crucial tasks in leasing your rental property is choosing the best renter. A good tenant screening process for each applicant is the most effective way to do this. You’ll need to gather information from your prospective renter to see whether they are the ones you’re on the hunt for. At a minimum, insist that they fill out an application that contains all intended home occupants’ names and birth dates (as well as those under 18), five years of employment history, and at least three past rental references. You’ll also need to get Social Security numbers for all adult renters and run a background check on everyone. After that, call and verify the information on their application. If applicable, approach any previous landlords and get details on their renting history. It may necessitate a little time, but the more research you conduct before you sign that lease, the less likely you will encounter unexpected problems in the future.

Avoiding Discrimination

As you advertise to and screen renters, it’s critical to avoid discriminating against potential renters, even accidentally. Several federal laws make it prohibited to discriminate against a renter based on race, sex, color, national origin, religion, handicap, and familial status. These laws include:

  • Fair Housing Act (FHA): The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination in housing according to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. The FHA covers all aspects of the rental process, including advertising, tenant selection, and terms and conditions of tenancy.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): Also covered by FHA is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Landlords who own multi-unit buildings of 4 units or more have to provide reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities, such as granting accessible parking spaces or installing grab bars in bathrooms.
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA): The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against individuals 40 years of age or older. Although the ADEA is generally designed to protect employees, it also outlaws discrimination in housing on the basis of age.
  • Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA): The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) is a federal law prohibiting discrimination in credit transactions, including rental transactions. Under the ECOA, landlords may not discriminate against individuals based on their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, marital status, age, or because they receive public assistance.

It’s important to research state and local law in addition to federal law. There may be other protected classes depending on local regulations.

As you create your rental ads, avoid using language that could be viewed as discrimination, such as stating that you won’t rent to seniors or people with children or that you won’t rent to those who live on government assistance. Secondly, after you get applications and screen renters, fairly assess your applicants based on the information they provide and not on other criteria. By implementing professionalism and using an unbiased screening system, you can stay clear of discriminating against any potential renters.

Understanding Reasonable Accommodations

Similarly, it is vital not to assume that someone with a disability is automatically not a decent candidate for your rental property. Under the Federal Fair Housing Act, El Cerrito property managers are mandated to allow “reasonable accommodations” for their renters if they are needed. By definition, a reasonable accommodation is “a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service that may be necessary for a person with a disability to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.” If your prospective renter otherwise meets the criteria for renting your property, accommodation should not be a reason to turn them away. The accommodation a renter requests would be paid for and installed by the renter, with the awareness that they would be obligated to restore the property to its original condition upon move-out.

Other accommodations include allowing service and emotional support animals in the rental property, even if you have a consistent policy disallowing pets. Service and emotional support animals are excepted from a rental pet policy. You may not impose additional rent or fees if a renter keeps a service animal on the property.

It might be challenging to be knowledgeable about all the laws and best practices for leasing rental properties. Why not employ a professional property manager to handle this difficult task? At Real Property Management Pacific, we provide comprehensive and anti-discriminatory screening and leasing services to help our rental property owners locate the most eligible renters. Contact us today or call us at 510-900-4544 to learn more.


Originally published on June 4, 2021

We are pledged to the letter and spirit of U.S. policy for the achievement of equal housing opportunity throughout the Nation. See Equal Housing Opportunity Statement for more information.

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