How to Screen and Select Tenants FAQ

While it’s illegal to discriminate against a tenant based on their national origin, landlords in most states are allowed to ask applicants for proof of identity and eligibility to work under U.S. immigration laws, such as a passport or naturalization certificate, using Form I-9 (Employment Eligibility Verification) of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This form and instructions for completing it are available on the USCIS website.

While asking applicants to provide documentation of their citizenship status during the screening process, and rejecting those who can not provide such documentation, does not violate the federal Fair Housing Act, you may not selectively ask for immigration information—that is, you must ask all prospective tenants, not just those you suspect to be in the country illegally.

And as with most aspects of landlord-tenant law, there are exceptions to a landlord’s ability to inquire about a prospective tenant’s immigration status or citizenship: New York City and California prohibit landlords from asking such questions.

Keep in mind that some people who have the right to be in the U.S., such as some students and other temporary visa holders, may not have the right to work, which is the focus of the I-9 form. To confirm their right to be in the U.S., asks for a USCIS “receipt” or other document describing their status.

For detailed advice on choosing and screening tenants (and avoiding illegal discrimination), see Every Landlord’s Legal Guide, or, (if your rental property is in California), The California Landlord’s Law Book: Rights & Responsibilities.

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