Preparing to Rent, Credit, & Financial Literacy

Fair housing laws apply to the rental of apartments, plexes, single family homes, manufactured homes, etc., just as it does to the purchase of real estate and home insurance. Owners, on-site and portfolio managers, leasing staff and maintenance crews all must comply with fair housing laws.

At the Fair Housing Council, we're not only interested in protecting fair housing rights in rental transactions, but also in educating housing consumers and expanding housing opportunities for all regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, familial status, disability, marital status, source of income, etc. in accordance with the letter and spirit of federal, state, and local fair housing laws.

What Are Landlords Looking For?

Landlords want renters who will do the following:

  • Pay rent on time
  • Not cause damage (nothing beyond “normal wear and tear”)
  • Not disturb neighbors
  • Abide by all rules and regulations
  • Avoid illegal activity

From your rental application (and any credit and/or background checks) the landlord will attempt to determine if you will likely pay your rent on time, abide by all rules and regulations, avoid damage to the property, avoid disturbances to your neighbors, and engage in no illegal activity. If you want to be accepted as a tenant you will want to reassure your landlord that there will be no problems in any of those five areas.

What to Expect When Filling Out a Rental Application:

Your landlord may accept your application during a face-to-face appointment, over the telephone, through the mail, or via the internet. You should read and review the entire form, as well as any addenda or attachments, very carefully. Be certain that you fill it out completely, that you thoroughly understand it before signing it, and that all of the information is accurate.

If you are unable to read or write you have the right to take the application home and get help from someone you know or an assistance agency. You may also choose to take the application with you to fill out later if all of the necessary information is not readily available to you. You should know that it is possible that someone else may come, apply, and rent the unit you were considering in the meantime so be sure to stay in touch with the potential landlord and return the completed application to him/her as soon as possible.

Never sign a legal document with blanks not filled in or “scratched out” as unscrupulous individuals could alter the document without your knowledge, making it look as if you had signed it with the information s/he had added. Both you and your landlord will sign the original application; be sure you get a copy of the signed contract as well. Note: You should obtain a copy of any document you sign at the time you sign the document; that way you will know you have received an accurate copy of what you signed and not something that may have been subsequently altered.

You should know that many landlords will deny you simply for leaving blanks on your application form empty, the reason being that they want complete and comprehensive information on you and your history before making a decision on whether to rent to you or not. If you’re unable to answer a question on the application, at the very least you should write “not applicable,” “information available upon request,” or if absolutely necessary, “unknown.” You may also choose to write a separate letter to explain a special circumstance; just be sure you write “see attached letter” on your application.

General Recommendations:

Never sign any document you don't understand or that has blank lines that are not filled in or otherwise crossed out. Your rental application asks for information about you and your history that is designed to allow your potential landlord to determine whether or not you will be a good renter.

Based on the information you provide, s/he will most likely run a background check on you to check your credit and criminal histories. S/he may contact your previous landlords to ask for a recommendation on you, how well you kept the property, and whether or not you paid the rent on time, etc. By signing the application form, you’re agreeing to allow these investigations. At the time you submit your application to your potential landlord, s/he will most likely require you to pay an application charge. If your landlord’s application charge is a “deposit,” you should know that deposits are refundable in certain circumstances (make sure you understand what those circumstances are before paying the deposit). “Fees” are not refundable; so if the landlord’s application charge is a fee you should not expect to get that money back.

Note that it is legal under the state Landlord / Tenant Act for landlords to discriminate against applicants based on: past landlord references, criminal background, credit history, insufficient income, etc. These are a few examples of when a landlord might legally reject an applicant with cause – while the landlord is discriminating in these situations, these are not illegal forms of discrimination under fair housing laws. Landlords are advised to review each application in the order received and use consistent criteria in screening applications to avoid running afoul of fair housing laws.

Landlords can legally evict renters under state landlord / tenant law because of: late rent, disturbing neighbors, damage to property, illegal activity, etc. These are a few examples of when a landlord might evict a resident with cause – while the landlord is discriminating in these situations, but these are notillegal forms of discrimination under fair housing laws. Rules and procedures should be consistent and penalties for breaking the rental contract or community rules should be based on the bad behavior and treated consistently regardless of protected class status.

Application Fees:

There is no official cap on what landlords can charge as an application fee; however, it should be consistent with current market practices in the area. Application fees often run $35-$40. You should not be spending more than $60; but there are reports of landlords charging as much as $150.

Landlords collecting application fees and background checks. Unscrupulous landlords may charge an application fee, keep the money, and tell you that they were denied without running a background check on you. You may ask for an itemized list of what the application fee is paying for. You should also know that if the landlord takes an application fee and then denies you, s/he must tell you why you were denied (i.e., credit score lower than s/he requires, criminal history, past evictions, etc.). If you are denied because of credit, you can get a free copy of your credit report based on the denial. On the report, it will say whether or not the landlord checked your credit.

Rent Well Classes

211's Rent Well page lists organizations and classes that offer certificates after completing a series of courses. Many landlords will consider the completion of this course as positive factor in tenant screening.

Credit & Financial Literacy

At the Fair Housing Council (FHCO) we believe that financial literacy is a key for individuals to be successful active members our society and make informed, responsible choices as consumers. To this end we support efforts to make financial education a required component of public high school curricula in Oregon.

We believe that by increasing the knowledge and understanding that high school aged youth have of personal credit issues, and money management that it will have a positive effect on homeownership levels. Individuals will be prepared for mortgage loans, and better understand how to avoid predatory loans, bankruptcies and foreclosures which negatively impact their personal credit.

Some helpful websites:

Money Matters, Make it Count, Make it Count

National Endowment for Financial Education's High School Program