Q:  How much can I legally charge a tenant as a screening fee?
A:  Currently for 2015, a landlord may charge a maximum fee of up to $45.99 per applicant.  This amount changes annually by the Consumer Price Index.  It is recommended, however, that you charge only your actual cost of obtaining reports plus $10, at the most, for your time and trouble. 

Q: Does the law require me to give the tenant a Screening Fee Receipt?
A:  Yes, at the time you take an applicant’s rental application and screening fee, you must give them an itemized receipt explaining the fees(Use AOA’s form #147 – Receipt of Application Screening Fee.) 

QI have an applicant who claims to be disabled.  How can I verify his income from State Disability?
A: Unfortunately, the Social Security Administrative office will not release any information pertaining to the applicant’s income; however you may ask for their bank statement which will show their monthly income from SSI or SSDI. 

Q.  Can I refuse to rent to someone who does not provide or have a Social Security number or is this considered discrimination?
A: No.  You cannot refuse to rent to someone without a social security number.  New York and California prohibit landlords from doing this.   It is illegal to discriminate against a prospective tenant based on their national origin.  While asking applicants to provide documentation of their citizenship status and rejecting those who cannot provide such documentation does not violate the federal Fair Housing Act.  Know that you then must ask ALL prospective tenants – you may not selectively ask for citizenship documentation – be consistent with all.  Some other documents you may ask  for as verification are the ITIN – which is a tax ID number given from IRS or a USCIS “receipt”  (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services).   Credit reports may be run with a tax ID number.  AOA runs credit reports without Social Security numbers.  If an applicant comes back with “no credit found”, you can reject them if your criteria requires good credit history. 

Q: My criteria list states that all applicants over the age of 18 must show proof of income and fill out an application.  How do I handle a situation with a husband and wife where only the husband works and they submit only one application listing the wife as an additional tenant?  Can or should I reject them based on the fact that one of them has no income and did not submit an application?   Should I use a combined income formula or require that each person make at least two times the amount of rent?
A: We suggest that all applicants over the age of 18 complete and sign a separate rental application form. It is the combined income that will meet your “income qualification.” Combined income will show on their most recent tax return.  You may use a combined income requirement or require that each applicant must meet the income requirement separately but …. you must be consistent with your income verification on your written criteria list whether married or unmarried couples are applying for your rental property. 

Q:  If I reject an applicant, must I do so in writing?
A: The FCRA requires you to provide a written adverse action to the applicant. The applicant is entitled to the written notice so he or she may understand what influenced the denial, even though income may have been another factor.   (Members may download for free AOA’s form #140 – the Tenant Rejection Notice from www.aoausa.com to use for this purpose.) 

Q:  Do I have to give my applicant a copy of his credit report?
A: Every local, state and federal law regarding the use of consumer reports is different.  In California, if the applicant requests a copy at the time of the screening process, you must give them a copy of their credit report, regardless of whether you deny or accept them. The exception to this rule is if you did not charge the applicant a fee for screening then you need not provide one to them.  If you call in for a report and need a copy for the applicant, ask for a “Consumer” copy of the credit report which does not show your address.  If you order a report through our 24/7 online service, click on the “Consumer” copy tab for this report.  If the applicant asks for a free credit report AFTER they have been rejected, they should be referred to AOA for proper handling and AOA will mail them a report.   

Q:  I have two applicants where one has good credit and the other does not.  How should I handle this situation?
A: Success in filling your vacancy starts with a well written Criteria List for all prospective tenants. This tool is one of the best and easiest ways to avoid discrimination of the Fair Housing Act. Both of your applicants must meet your criteria in order to qualify.    (See AOA’s Sample Criteria List on www.aoausa.com under forms and if you don’t have one of your own – CREATE ONE TODAY! – you may hand this out along with the application to inform prospective tenants of your rental requirements.)

Be sure to send a rejection slip to the one that does not qualify AND to the one that does qualify stating that they’ve been rejected because “your co-applicant does not meet rental qualifications”. 

Q:  How do I handle a foreign exchange student applying for my rental?
A:  Unfortunately, credit reports and background checks are not available for foreign exchange students, but you can ask for a completed rental application, copy of their bank statement and any employment history.  Again, your written criteria list should specify how you handle foreign exchange students and your specific requirements for them.

Q:  I have heard that AOA offers the best eviction reports available.  How do yours differ from others?
A:  When you order your “AOA Eviction Search”, the information will be coming from two different and distinct files.  It costs you no more than what you normally pay for one report and you will be receiving a report that is taken and put together from two different companiesAn industry first!   I can guarantee you that as I write this, the AOA National Eviction Search is the best and most thoroughly tested report currently available to you. Don’t settle for less, demand the best.   

Jin Kim is the Senior Account Director of AOA’s Tenant Screening Department.  For more information or to start using AOA’s low-cost tenant screening services, call 800-363-5296 or visit www.aoausa.com