Recently, a member called us about doing income and employment verifications. He was wondering if it was appropriate to ask for check stubs. He was concerned about violated fair housing or getting into legal jeopardy. His questions about best practice and liability prompted us to write this article.
Poor or unemployed people are not a protected class. So it is perfectly legal to discriminate against them! When you say it like that, it sounds mean. But it isn’t. It would be a poor decision to go into business with someone who was unable to fulfill their economic obligations to you, and the best indicator of future performance is past performance. The best way to check past income and employment performance is to require information can verify.
Certainly, there are some good renters who have other income or means of paying rent other than employment, (like government housing vouchers, government payments or pensions). But since most renters are employed and need to stay employed to maintain their rental obligations, it is important to know how to verify income and employment. Typically, there are three options for verifying income and employment.
Calling the Employer
Most rental applications ask for the name and number of the employer. Landlords like to call this person and verify:
- that the person is employed
- the amount the employee earns each month and
- if the job is temporary or long term
These kinds of questions will help determine how risky the applicant is. Most housing counseling agencies encourage people not to spend 40% of their gross income on housing because people who do, often default. So, most landlords require renters have a combined household income of two and a half or three times the rental rate.
For instance, it is common for a landlord renting a $1,000 a month place to require verifiable income of $3,000 per month. Knowing if the job is temporary or long term is also valuable. Be sure to ask.
Some employers cannot be reached or do not answer questions about employees. No problem. In that case, the backup is check stubs.
If applicants are self-employed, it is common to require bank statements to verify deposit of the record amount and regularity.
A landlord attorney advises his clients to limit queries to employers to the scope of just verifying employment and income, but says it is always appropriate to ask:
- if it is full or part time employment,
- how much they make and
- how long they have been there.
These questions, he says, can help assess risk and are completely legal.
Verifying income and employment is one of the most important things landlords can do. It is not discriminatory to refuse to rent to people who cannot provide such verification. Talking to employers, getting copies of check stubs or seeing bank statements are common methods of verification and can help assess risk and avoid problems.
Reprinted with permission of the Utah Apartment Association.