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Understanding tenant screening in California

On Behalf of | Nov 3, 2023 | Landlord/Tenant Concerns |

Tenant screening lets landlords assess applicant qualifications to determine if they are a good fit. The landlord typically reviews the prospective tenant’s credit history, rental history, employment status and criminal background.

California laws govern the tenant screening process to ensure fairness and protect the rights of both parties.

Fair housing laws

Tenant screening must comply with both federal and state fair housing laws. These laws prohibit discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability and family status. Landlords must treat all applicants equally and fairly, regardless of these protected characteristics. Any discriminatory practices can lead to serious legal consequences.

Credit reports and background checks

Landlords must obtain the tenant’s written consent to do a credit and background check. They cannot investigate an applicant’s financial history or criminal record without their knowledge or approval. According to Forbes, most property management companies look for a credit score of at least 650 and a monthly income of at least three times the rent.

State law also requires that landlords give written notice if they deny an application based on a credit or background check report. Applicants have the right to obtain a copy of any screening information the landlord used to make a rental decision.  Beginning in 2024, a new law will make it illegal to consider a tenant’s criminal history in California.

Application fees

California landlords may charge application fees to cover the costs of tenant screening. The law does not specify a limit for these fees but notes they cannot exceed the actual cost of expenses such as credit reports.

By following these laws, landlords can achieve a transparent and legally compliant tenant screening process.