Q: There are a lot of young families that live in my apartment building. I have a vacant apartment in my building and began taking applications. Can I search my new rental applicants on the Megan’s Law Website to see if they are sex offenders?
A: No, California law prohibits landlords from using the Megan’s Law Website to make housing decisions. You may run a criminal background check as part of your regular tenant screening process, which should provide you with a report of all convictions including those for sex offenses.
You may deny a potential tenant with a criminal conviction if that tenant’s conviction indicates a demonstrable risk to other tenants and/or property. If you use this as a tenant screening factor, then you must apply it consistently to all applicants.
Q: An applicant for one of my rental units was convicted of arson one year ago. Can I deny them based on their criminal background?
A: Yes. As the landlord, you should consider the severity of the crime. Arson is a potential hazard to your other tenants and your property. If you deny this tenant, then you will need to deny all other applicants with similar or comparable convictions. For example, if you deny this applicant based on their criminal conviction, but accept an applicant that has been convicted of aggravated assault, then you are discriminating against the first applicant. A person that is convicted of aggravated assault is comparably as dangerous to surrounding tenants.
Q: An applicant for my condo included COVID-19 rental assistance payments funded through the State of California as a source of their income. I want to deny this applicant because I do not believe rental assistance is a source of income and the applicant does not financially qualify for the condo if I do not take the rental assistance into consideration. Can I deny this applicant?
A: No, you cannot deny the applicant based only on their previous acceptance of COVID-19 rental assistance payments. Assembly Bill 832 added COVID-19 rental assistance payments as a “source of income,” which is a protected verifiable income that landlords are prohibited from using as a reason to refuse to rent to an applicant. You are still able to screen applicants according to lawful screening practices.
Q: I am renting my single-family home and began taking applications. I have received several applications that state that the tenants have accumulated COVID-19 Rental Debt. I prefer to accept tenants with relatively low levels of debt. Can I deny tenants that have COVID-19 Rental Debt?
A: No, you cannot use COVID-19 Rental Debt as a negative factor when evaluating rental applicants. The term “COVID-19 Rental Debt” is currently defined as rent from March 1, 2020 through September 30, 2021. You are still able to screen applicants according to lawful screening practices.
Q: I own an apartment building and want to tell my property management company that they must request information regarding applicant’s immigration status, and I do not want to rent to tenants that do not have legal status to be in the United States. Is it okay for me to implement these rental criteria?
A: No, you cannot reject a prospective tenant based on their immigration status. Federal and state fair housing laws prohibit adopting discriminatory rental criteria. Additionally, under California law a landlord or landlords’ agent cannot inquire as to the immigration or citizenship of a prospective tenant. You can still require the applicant to provide you documentation to prove their identity, but you must make sure all your rental criteria are required of all applicants regardless of immigration status.
Attorney Franco Simone, of Simone & Associates and The Landlords’ Legal Center, has been doing evictions for over 20 years. He is also an adjunct law professor at the University of San Diego. Mr. Simone’s office is open Monday – Friday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Tel: 619-235-6180, website: www.landlordslegalcenter.com or email [email protected]