Tenant Selection

Tenant Selection in the Golden State: How to Stay Compliant

You own property in California, then, huh? You have successfully joined one of the most tightly controlled rental marketplaces in the nation. Take a seat before beginning the application screening process since there are some crucial guidelines to follow in order to follow the law in the Golden State. California tenant regulations may appear complex, but don’t worry; we’ve got the fundamentals covered. In this post, we’ll go over everything you can and can’t do when screening new tenants, including the questions you can ask and the application procedures you must follow. If you stick with us, with the assistance of Tenant Screening Center, you’ll soon be choosing compliant tenants.

Understanding California’s Fair Housing Laws

It’s crucial that you comprehend and abide by California’s fair housing rules as a landlord. The purpose of these laws is to protect tenants from discrimination and guarantee that everyone has equal access to housing.

The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) of California forbids discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, color, national origin, ancestry, physical or mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, age, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and status as a member of the armed forces or veteran. You cannot treat tenants differently or refuse to rent to them because of certain protected traits.

Additionally, you cannot discriminate against tenants who pay their rent with Section 8 vouchers or other forms of government aid. Additionally, you are required to offer tenants with impairments reasonable accommodations. This can entail adding grab bars to restrooms or granting access to a service animal.

The FEHA also prohibits tenant harassment and retribution. This includes conduct that makes a homely situation hostile. Take all allegations of harassment or discrimination seriously as a landlord, and take the necessary steps.

Have a consistent tenant screening procedure and solely assess applications based on legal requirements like income, credit score, and references to remain compliant. Keep records demonstrating your fair and unbiased evaluation of each application.

One of the best methods to prevent violations of fair housing regulations is by educating yourself and your team about them. Think about offering frequent training on preventing discrimination and harassment. Additionally, it’s a good idea to incorporate an anti-discrimination policy in your rental agreements and staff handbook.

Following California’s fair housing laws promotes inclusion and helps avoid expensive legal problems. As a landlord, do your share to offer everyone in your community safe, just, and equitable housing.

Permitted vs Prohibited Tenant Screening Criteria

It’s crucial to know which factors you can and cannot take into account when screening tenants in California. Some elements are categorically forbidden, while others demand careful evaluation.

Prohibited Criteria

You cannot reject an applicant based on their membership in a protected class, such as:

  • Race, color, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, ancestry, familial status, source of income, or disability.
  • Participation in a government housing assistance program like Section 8.
  • Occupation, unless it can be shown to directly impact their ability to pay rent. For example, you can’t deny a teacher or firefighter just due to their profession.

Permitted Criteria

You can evaluate applicants based on:

  • Credit history and credit score. Check for a history of missed or late payments, judgments, liens, foreclosures, and bankruptcies.
  • Income and employment. Require 2-3 years of stable income and verify current employment. Income should be 2-3 times the rent.
  • Rental history. Check for a pattern of late payments, complaints, or damage. Speak to current and previous landlords.
  • Background check. Look for any relevant criminal history like theft, fraud, or violent offenses. But be very careful, as some criminal records may be prohibited criteria.
  • Debt-to-income ratio. A lower ratio, like under 30-40%, shows the tenant can likely afford rent payments. But don’t rely entirely on ratios and be open to extenuating circumstances.

Weigh all relevant factors equally and impartially while deciding whether to accept an applicant. Adverse action notices must always be sent in writing within three to five days of a decision. To avoid any infractions, get legal advice whenever you have any questions. By adhering to these best practices, you can make sure that your tenant selection procedure remains legal.

Best Practices for Tenant Selection in California

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As a landlord in California, following best practices for tenant selection will help ensure you stay on the right side of the law. Some key things to keep in mind:

Avoid Discrimination

It is prohibited to exclude or treat tenants differently on the basis of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, level of handicap, or relationship to their family. Make sure your selection criteria are reasonable and apply to all applicants equally.

Check References and Credit

You are within your rights to verify an applicant’s references and credit record, even though you cannot deny them residence based merely on poor credit or a lack of rental history. Look for indications that the tenant will maintain the property well and pay the rent on time. Asking for a greater security deposit may be appropriate if there are warning signs.

Screen for Ability to Pay Rent

You can demand that an applicant’s income be two to three times the monthly rent as long as you hold everyone to the same standard. This makes it more likely that they can pay the bills. Additionally, you can request recent pay stubs, tax returns, bank statements, or other forms of asset- and income-verification.

Charge Application Fees Carefully

In California, application fees are restricted to a fair level, usually between $30 and $50 per applicant. Only your real screening expenditures for the renter can be covered by the fees. Ensure that any costs for third-party screening services are fair and legal. If you reject an application, send refunds out right away.

Provide Proper Notices

Once you’ve chosen a renter, send the appropriate notifications regarding their consent, the conditions of the lease, and the following stages. These cover particulars about the apartment, the way the rent is paid, who is responsible for what utilities, and other terms of the lease. California landlord-tenant rules must be complied with in all notices and the final lease agreement.

You and your new tenants will be set up for a nice, legal relationship if you adhere to these recommended practices. Do your research, be fair and respectful to all candidates, and keep up with the most recent rules in your city and county. It’s always a good idea to speak with a legal expert if you have any additional inquiries.


There you have it, then. To stay on the right side of the law as a landlord in California, you have your job cut out for you. But don’t give up; if you are diligent and careful in your tenant selection, you may locate excellent tenants and stay out of problems. Do your research, abide by the laws, and make sure to keep detailed records of everything. You’ll succeed if you approach it with reasonable expectations regarding the duties associated with becoming a landlord in California. And keep in mind that it’s always a good idea to consult an attorney if you’re unsure. They can help guide you through any gray areas and make sure your leasing practices are fair, lawful and ethical. You’ve got this! Now go out there and find some stellar tenants.

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