Updated on

Tenant Screening Laws

Federal laws ban discrimination and increase transparency in the tenant screening process. Some states regulate how much landlords can charge in application fees, as well.


Every landlord in the United States must abide by federal laws that apply to the rental application process. The Fair Credit Reporting Act, for instance, helps to increase transparency for applicants when it comes to background or credit checks. Another major piece of federal legislation, the Fair Housing Act, outlaws discrimination in the tenant screening process.

A number of states also have specific laws that deal with the rental application process, such as limits on application fees—choose your state from the dropdown menu at the top of this page for more information.

The Fair Housing Act bans discrimination in the screening process

The federal Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968 and shields certain people from housing discrimination based on personal characteristics. On a national level, this includes race or color, religion, national origin, familial status, disability, and sex. But states have also broadened these protections—it’s illegal to discriminate in housing on the basis of sexual orientation in California, for instance, or marital status in Colorado.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act increases transparency for tenants

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is a federal law that applies to all landlords in the U.S. It deals mostly with “consumer reports,” which include things like credit checks, rental history reports, and background checks—which landlords often request as part of the approval process for a rental unit. In general, the FCRA makes this process more transparent for tenants by requiring landlords to tell them if they were rejected because of something on a consumer report. It also gives tenants the right to request a free copy of their reports each year and correct any errors.

Some states cap application fees for potential tenants

When someone applies to rent an apartment, generally landlords will charge an application fee to cover the costs associated with screening potential tenants. Certain states have capped how much landlords can charge for these fees. In California, for instance, the maximum fee is about $50 (although it increases slightly each year). In New York, it’s a strict $20.

Other places, like Washington, don’t include a specific dollar amount in the law. But they do make it illegal for landlords to charge tenants anything beyond their actual screening costs. And many states don’t regulate application fees at all—Washington, D.C. or Arizona, for instance.

Some states require landlords to explain their selection criteria

Depending on the state, landlords may be required by law to provide applicants with certain information about how they select their tenants. In both Texas and Washington, for instance, landlords have to give applicants a written explanation of their selection criteria—and the reasons that an application might be denied. Choose your state from the dropdown menu at the top of the page for more information.

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.



Can’t find your question?

Have a specific question that's not answered in one of our Learn articles? Submit it here and we might be able to create a new article.