Tenant Selection

Tenant Selection

When a landlord, broker, or owner screens prospective tenants during the application process, it is important to distinguish between legitimate questions and discriminatory questions that could violate fair housing laws.

Housing providers have a right to set financial and credit qualifications, a process that provides some assurance that the applicant will be a good tenant.  Qualifications and inquiries must be applied equally to all applicants and must not be influenced by race, national origin, or other protected factors.  Learn more about the protected classes.

Screening may include credit checks, work and landlord references, personal references, questions about the number of people who will live in the unit, criminal background checks, including the sex offender registry, home visits, and interviews.  Whatever qualifying screening criteria a landlord uses must apply equally to all applicants.

Fair housing laws generally prohibit housing providers from asking direct or indirect questions that may reveal a person's protected class, even if asked of all applicants.  However, inquiries designed to qualify an applicant for housing for senior citizens or people with disabilities are permissible.

Examples of inquiries that may be evidence of discrimination include:

  • Do you have a disability?
  • What is your religion?
  • How old are you?
  • Where were you born?
  • Are you gay?
  • Are you married?
  • What is your race?

Requirements that may be evidence of discrimination include:

  • Requiring medical documentation (unless there is a request an accommodation for a disability);
  • Requiring a marriage certificate;
  • Requiring a passport, birth certificate, or any document that reveals age, race, national origin, or alienage/citizenship status; and,
  • Requiring a picture with the application.  An applicant can be asked to provide government-issued identification but this requirement must be applied consistently to all applicants and should not be restricted to a particular form of identification (e.g., a driver license).

These types of questions could be evidence of a fair housing violation.  When in doubt, call the New York City Human Rights Commission.

If you believe you have been the victim of discrimination, contact us to file a complaint. The New York City Human Rights Law requires that the complaint be filed within one year from the date of the last alleged act of discrimination.

If you would like to attend a free workshop on the New York City Human Rights Law, visit the events tab for upcoming workshop or visit the contact us tab to contact call the New York City Commission on Human Rights.