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Tenant applicant rejection

I am a landlord of a single family occupancy home and have received multiple applications for  tenancy.  I have made my decision on which tenant to move forward with and I am concerned with the legal way to reject the other applicants.  I have read many articles about discrimination and fair housing laws and it just concerns me.  Some of the applicants I chose not to move forward with simply on my gut feeling, I didn't run a background check on them or call any of their references, so I don't have  legal reasons for decline.  I would appreciate any suggestions to assure I am legally covered.  Can a homeowner simply choose not to rent to an applicant, do we have to properly screen every individual, call their references and have a legal reason for decline?  Thank you for your time.

Stay away from race, creed, marital status, nationality.  Focus on money earned; rental history; credit worthiness, lack of criminal record, etc
Thank you for the feedback.
You don't have to give a reason either, at least not in CA.
Be careful if you live in Seattle, WA.  They just passed laws around this and I'm trying to figure out how to decline applicants as well.  I'm having an open house and then having the applicants apply online.  But I'm obviously only renting to one person.  I think I *have* to go with the first person in line unless they fail my criteria? It's super confusing what criteria counts and how to relay that information.
Criteria examples: credit score (600+), employed at least 6 mo or 1 yr with same employer, rent can not exceed 1/3 income to mention a few. Just apply the same to all applicants. Keep record (time/date) of all applicants. Always check your State laws.
If someone applies to live in our property, we run a credit and background check on every individual.  That way there can be no room for unfair treatment.  Peoples criminal and credit history show what kind of tenants they would be.  I would not consider it ethical to totally write someone off on a gut feeling, not even running any credit or background checks to support that.  If the credit or background check comes back unacceptable I don't waste my time with the other reference checks.  Are you collecting an application fee from these people who you aren't running the credit and background checks on??   If I have more than one person pass the application process, I look at other factors.  Is one willing to sign a longer lease?  Is one willing to occupy the property faster?  Does one have pets and the other not?  Keep records of why one person was chosen over another.
Rather than collecting for a credit check and having to return $$if you didn't run a check I suggest that they contact a credit bureau on line, fill out their application form and pay a one time fee. When they apply for a rental unit, landlord gives them their email address which is than given to credit company. Credit company will notify landlord that they can review & print the applicants report. Save me time & having to return cash or checks.  Elizabeth.....what is the advantage to having a lease longer than 1 yr?
You can also order their background through ezLandlordForms and indicate that they must pay the fee. That way, you don't have to collect a screening fee from them. ezLandlordForms handles that. Also, when you order their background, part of the screening is verifying that they are who they say they are, with a unique identity exam.
Stan M.  Sorry I didn't see your question till now.  The benefit of having a lease longer than a year is that you will have less turnover.  That means less work and more money.  It can be very time consuming to lease a property, and in the process you have expenses, and most often some time without collecting rent.
Elizabeth M….. I respectfully disagree that a long term lease decreases turnovers. Leases are for tenants because it freezes their rent for the term of the lease. If a tenant decides to move (break their lease) there is nothing you can do. Another downside is if you lend up with so-so tenants, you’re stuck with them until the term ends. Further, if rents in your area all of a sudden increase drastically after remaining flat for several years due to the economy, you ‘re losing potential income…..I normally offer a 1 year lease and hope for the best. When the lease terminates they are placed on a month-to-month, all terms of the lease remains and tenants are required to give a 60 Day Notice to Vacate. This should give you time to find new tenants. However (yes there is always a However), if tenants are great tenants (pay rent on time, maintain property, etc) and based on the rental situation in my area, I will offer them another year lease…..Thanks for your point of view.
Stan M.  That's just fine if you prefer a 12 month lease.  I work hard to find great tenants, and have very rarely had issues.  I would never do more than a 1 year lease with someone I didn't feel confident in.  I respectfully disagree that leases are only for Tenants.  You can also have scheduled rent increases.  I firmly believe a lease is for the tenant, and for the owner.  As an owner and a property manager, I make sure both sides are protected.  If 12 month leases work best for you, great.  For others, a longer lease is a better option.  This will also vary a lot from neighborhood to neighborhood, and vary depending on how well the background and credit checks were done.
Elizabeth M….. the topic of discussion has nothing to do on how hard someone works to find a tenant or making both sides protected….protected from what? As an owner / property manager your sole interest should be to the landlords. Tenants are protected by local/state laws……..Scheduled rent increases – these are of little value since it assumes that tenant will remain on property for the term of the lease. A review of this forum shed light on how many tenants don’t honor a lease terms. Life is unpredictable……I can see why a property manager would like a lease greater than 1 yr (that’s another topic), but for the investor having a few rentals I believe after the 1st yr a month-to-month works best depending on investors situation and economy……As for background and credit checks – they’re only a picture of the past  to help in one’s decision in selecting a good tenant. But, as mentioned above - Life is unpredictable.
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