There are a number of very valid reasons why paper rental applications can adversely affect your business.
- Fair Housing compliance issues
- Information security concerns
- Redundant data entry
- Negative impressions
I will address each reason in separate posts. In this post I will look at potential Fair Housing compliance issues with paper applications.
The Fair Housing Act was enacted to protect rental applicants and tenants from discrimination and bias by a landlord or real estate agent. The law which is very comprehensive and among other things, prohibits property owners and landlords from:
- Refusing to sell or rent out a house based on the race, religion, color, gender or nationality of the tenant
- Having different terms and conditions for different applicants based on the race, religion or nationality of the tenant for the rental or sale agreement
- Promoting or advertising the rental with a section that seeks a specified preferred gender, race or nationals to apply
Please note that Fair Housing laws can vary by state and even municipality. This post is not intended to provide legal advice. If you have any questions about the fair housing laws in your area, please check with an attorney or the proper authorities.
According to Ron Leshnower, who is an attorney, and Founder and President of Fair Housing Helper, addressed the question – “Do I Have to Accept Applicants in the Order they Applied?”
His answer is “no,” but adds that “…you might want to because accepting applicants out of order, though not illegal, could give the impression of discrimination and may cause legal problems for you.”
Penalties for violating the Fair Housing Act can be very severe. Violations are typically investigated weeks or even months after they are reported. It is incumbent on the landlord or real estate agent to provide documentation that the violations did not occur.
Paper rental application makes compliant rental documentation next to impossible for the following reasons.
Many landlords and real estate agents that do use paper applications can tell you that they regularly receive applications that are missing information. While they are trying track down the applicants to get the information, they are getting new applications for that property.
Landlords can appear to be discouraging potential tenants from applying to their properties or steering them to another property when they select an application from someone who has provided a completed application after a partially completed application was submitted.
This can be considered a violation of the anti-discriminatory housing laws.
Even when the landlord does follow the rules, rejected applicants can claim, rightly or wrongly, that they were turned down due to race, ethnicity or any other of the protected classes. As indicated, the burden is on the landlord to show the first qualified applicant was accepted, which can be very difficult with a paper application months after the fact.
With properly designed online applications, you get two benefits to help keep you compliant with Fair Housing regulations –
- The application cannot be submitted unless it is complete.
- Successfully submitted applications are date and time stamped.
Assuming you are complying with Fair Housing rules and consistent with your application process for each applicant, an online application provides you with documentation should a complaint arise.