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What Potential Tenants Can I Legally Refuse to Lease to?

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Florida is one of the states with the highest number of renters in the country. And as a rental property owner, you want to only entrust it to individuals that can take good care of your valued investment.

Trustworthy tenants can give a high return on investment and guarantee positive landlord-tenant relationships. The process begins with selecting the right ones and declining the wrong ones. However, the criterion has to be legal, and a business attorney in Central Florida can save you the trouble.

What is Different about Florida Screening Laws?

The screening laws in Florida vary slightly from what is imposed in other states. A Daytona Beach rental lawyer can help you familiarize yourself with what is required of you as a property owner. Here are a few things to note:

  • The amount of tenant application fees is not limited by the state.
  • The amount ought to be higher than the average out-of-pocket expenses.
  • Any deposits or fees should be kept in separate accounts – the money you collect should not co-mingle.

What is the Most Common Screening Mistake?

It is illegal for a landlord to conduct a background check on a potential tenant without their consent. Particularly, the consent needs to be in writing. Thus, a good lease application form asks for signed permission from the applicants.

If the tenant does not agree to give you consent, the landlord is at liberty to deny their application. It is critical to remain consistent in your screening practices to ensure that all applicants are treated the same.

What are the Legal Grounds to Decline a Rental Application?

As a landlord, making legal decisions can save your business a lot of trouble. It allows you to keep the wrong tenants away and avoid unnecessary lawsuits.

Income-to-Rent Ratio

You can reject a tenant that does not make enough money to meet the rental obligations of the property. Property owners can decide to accept tenants that earn approximately three times the rent amount. The law allows you to ask for evidence of the applicant’s income.

Too Many Occupants

Landlords do not get to decide on what number of occupants is “too many.” The federal government, state, and local housing departments lay out the regulation on how many people can live in a house. A knowledgeable Daytona Beach rental lawyer can offer great advice on occupancy laws.

Bad Credit

The law allows landlords to evaluate applicants’ credit scores because it indicates their financial history. However, you have to set the minimum credit score for each of your properties and be consistent with your decision-making.

Unpaid balances & Evictions

It is safe to reject an application of a tenant with a long history of evictions from other rental properties. You can also say no to tenants that are being sought after by rent collection agencies or left unpaid balances at the places they used to live in.

Incorrect Information

If you find out that an applicant has provided false or unverifiable information, you can deny their tenancy application. Renters can lie about a former employer or landlord or even about their income. Notably, you can legally evict such a tenant.

What are the Invalid Reasons to Deny a Rental Application?

While there are valid and legal reasons to refuse a tenant’s application, you cannot deny them a chance to live in your rental property without a good reason. For instance, you are forbidden from using certain discriminative aspects to make a decision.

An applicant can actually sue you if they have evidence that the criteria used to decline their application is illegal – and you can part with hundreds of dollars in damages. Notably, the Fair Housing Laws protects tenants from being denied residential opportunities based on their:

  • Marital status
  • Familial status
  • Gender/gender identity
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Handicap
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age
  • Color
  • Race
  • Or other arbitrary discrimination

What is the Best Way to Decline a Tenant’s Application?

If you have a legal reason not to want a potential tenant living or doing business in your rental property, a rental lawyer in Daytona Beach, FL, can guide you on how to go about it. Consider writing an adverse action letter to the unsuccessful applicants and inform them:

  • That you will not be accepting their application.
  • The reason why their application is being denied.
  • If there is any way, their application can be re-considered.

Landlords can decide to decline an application completely or with higher conditions. For instance, you can inform the tenant that you may accept them with their pets if they sign a rental agreement with a higher security deposit. Remember to write the letter as clearly as possible to prevent confusion on the applicant’s part.

Can I Deny Applications Because of Criminal Records?

Simply denying an application because the potential tenant has a criminal history is discriminative and violates the Federal Fair Housing Act. The rental property owner must look into the specifics of the criminal record and consider the following:

  • If they were convicted
  • What the offense was
  • The seriousness of the offense
  • How recent the crime was committed
  • If they had a long list of offenses
  • If the multiple offenses occurred over several years or around the same time

Once you have the details of their criminal record, you have to find out if it has the potential of affecting their stay in your rental property. You can legally consider them unfit if the offense:

  • Puts your property at risk of vandalism or arson
  • Affects their ability to pay rent, i.e., if they do not have a job
  • Can potentially make the environment unsafe for other tenants – rape, child molestation, or assault

An Experienced Legal Counsel Protecting Your Best Interests

A business can endure long-term problems because of a failure to make legally acceptable decisions. Every rental property owner desires good tenants and wants to avoid the troublesome ones. But the whole process requires the guidance of a rental lawyer in Central Florida to avoid legal issues later.

It would be best if you had someone to go through your application forms to ensure that it does not violate the law. A lawyer in Daytona Beach is an essential resource in understanding the rules in advance. Call us at (850) 888 8992 to speak to a business partner in Central Florida.

By: Melody Lankford
After graduating from Davidson College, Melody Lankford earned her J.D. from Florida State University’s College of Law in 2004 and was admitted to the Florida Bar that same year. Ms. Lankford joined Raydon Corporation as in-house counsel in 2004. She worked there until 2012, when she founded the Lankford Law Firm. She is an experienced Daytona Beach small business attorney who offers sound legal counsel and experience-based insights to her business clients.

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