Q: I have a mother-in-law apartment in my home. My tenant and I share the mailbox, yard, garage and laundry room. Since this is my home and we live in such close proximity, having mutual compatibility is important for both tenant and myself.
Is it discriminatory to not rent to someone because I don’t think we’d get along?
Also, I think rental laws apply to me, but someone said they didn’t think so because of the amount of shared space. I’m doubtful. Any light you could shed on this, or suggestions as to where I could find info on this would be very helpful. - TVS Landlord
There are exceptions to many rental laws when tenants share your home with you. However, there is no one clear answer in your case. What qualifies as “sharing your home” can vary depending on where you live.
Regardless of whether discrimination laws apply to your situation, you have the right to reject an applicant who you don’t think you will get along with. That is not considered discrimination unless the reason you don’t like the person stems from their race, religion, national origin, and so on.
Even the most stringent rental laws allow you to choose a tenant whose personality is suited for the rental property. Here, you may be looking for someone who has a similar work schedule as yours, perhaps a nonsmoker, or someone who doesn’t need to store a lot of belongings.
The safest way for you to screen your tenants is to work up a checklist of the personal qualities you are seeking. Review the list before you share it with any applicants and ask yourself whether you are targeting any specific group of people – families, the elderly, persons with disabilities, or specific races for example. If so, re-evaluate what you are looking for. The goal is to develop a checklist of tenant screening questions that apply consistently to every applicant.
Also keep in mind that many unappealing behaviors can be curtailed simply by creating house rules. Think about what would bother you — noise, laundry use, gatherings in the yard, and provide any restrictions in your lease. Go over these rules with the applicants when you meet them. Those who feel they cannot comply will know that it is not a good fit and may look elsewhere for housing.
It is also important for you to let applicants know that you will conduct a thorough tenant background check. With tenants living in such close quarters with you, you’ll want to make sure they don’t have a bad history. If you let the applicant know you will be checking into their past, you not only discover trouble before you offer a lease, you also discourage problem tenants from applying in the first place.
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.