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When screening potential tenants, what is the proper way to turn them down, and the legal implications if the tenant asks for more details?

I would like my response to say as little as possible and also account for the case where I have not selected another tenant yet and the listing is still active. The best I have come up with so far is:

Thank you for your interest, but I have decided to select another applicant.

However, I'm not sure what to say if they ask for more reasons. I guess this is akin to what reason you would provide when someone presses you as to why you don't want to go on a second date. The less you say, the better?

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    If they press, you can always say, "I'm sorry, I can't say anything more." – phoog Jul 6 '16 at 17:30
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    If they press, you really better say "I'm sorry, I can't say anything more". – user6726 Jul 6 '16 at 19:05
  • Haha not going on a second date won't empty your bank account or put a freeloader in your building. I wouldn't dare be a landlord in a major American city without consulting a good attorney about how to act. – user2497 Jul 6 '16 at 22:45
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When screening potential tenants, what is the proper way to turn them down, and the legal implications if the tenant asks for more details?

The "proper" way to turn someone down depends on why you decided to turn him or her down. As long as you did not decline to rent to a tenant because of information you learned in a credit report or commercially available criminal background check, you are not required to notify them. However, it is a good business practice to notify them in writing as Nij's post suggests. However, it would be a good idea to keep a copy of the letter for you records and possibly write down some notes. Such as, "other applicants had higher income," or "could not verify rental history." These kinds notes one the letters you mail out will be you friend should you ever be accused of improper discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, etc..

Declining to Rent Based Upon a Credit Check or Commercially Available Background Check:

The federal law that governs credit checks and commercially available background checks is the Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA"). The FCRA regulates "consumer reports," which includes credit reports and criminal background checks that are assembled by companies. (The FCRA does not apply if you, yourself, are going to the state police or courthouse to get background check records).

Under the FCRA, requires that people who make decisions against someone based on information in a credit or background check, notify that person. The FCRA calls this decision against someone an "adverse action" and requires that you provide the affected party the following information:

  • The name, address and telephone number of the company that supplied the consumer report, including a toll-free telephone number for companies that maintain files nationwide;
  • A statement that the company that supplied the report did not make the decision to take the adverse action and cannot give the specific reasons for it; and
  • A notice of the individual's right to dispute the accuracy or completeness of any information the company furnished, and the consumer's right to a free report from the company upon request within 60 days.

The FCRA calls this notice an "Adverse Action Notice." See 15 U.S.C. 1681m. An adverse action notice can be oral, written, or electronic. Obviously, written or electronic would be the best since you can prove that it was sent.

Also, be aware that the FCRA has civil penalties if it is violated.


The Federal Trade Commission has a helpful guide that lists some of the basics of when you do and do not need to provide adverse action notice.

Website: Using Consumer Reports: What Landlords Need to Know Brochure: FTC Facts for Business

However, it does not cover criminal background checks, which have many of the same rules as the credit checks under the FCRA.


  • In the situation where it was a done deal pending the background check, and then I find out the person has a criminal record, I can see the FCRA rules applying. But when it isn't clear cut, how does one determine if a decision against someone is a direct result of a credit or background check? If I'm leaning towards no because I just didn't have a good feeling about someone, and then I see the person has a criminal record, I can't really be certain that my decision was a result of that so am I obligated to report? – TTT Jul 7 '16 at 18:59
  • Though, I suppose I could only do credit/background checks on people that I am ready to accept, pending the outcome of the final checks... then the requirements would obviously apply. – TTT Jul 7 '16 at 19:00
  • @TTT Check out the link I added to my post. It has a link to a brochure that the should give you guidance. Looking at your hypotheticals, you need to provide an Adverse Action Notice even if part of your decision is based on a credit check. The last page of the brochure provides some helpful links. – Mr_V Jul 8 '16 at 12:09
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If you are responding to their initial enquiry:

"Thank you for your application. These are currently being considered and we will contact you with the outcome."

If you have decided not to lease to them, in favour of another tenant:

"Thank you for your application. We appreciate your interest, but have chosen a different applicant. Good luck with your search."

If you have decided not to lease to them, in favour of continued advertisement:

"Thank you for your application. We appreciate your interest, but feel a tenancy would not be suitable at this time. Good luck with your search."

There is no need to explain further, nor to enter further correspondence. Any replies thereafter should be ignored. However, importantly, keep a record of them in case of later complaints or disputes.

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