Four Reason Why a Landlord Can (and Can’t) Reject a Rental Application

Written and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

Applying for a rental apartment, especially in hot markets like New York City and San Francisco, can be a stressful experience. Making a rental application is a major step in any apartment hunt as it shows a very serious desire to rent out the dwelling place in question. For many prospective tenants, the rental application can lead to a lot of anxiety, especially if they have concerns about the application getting rejected. While landlords are free to mostly choose whomever they want to live in their buildings, state and federal laws do prevent certain forms of discrimination against prospective tenants. Here are three reasons why a landlord can turn down a rental application–and one big reason why they cannot.

Income and credit history

Most landlords will ask about a prospective tenant’s income and will also check his or her credit history. A landlord wants to be assured that a tenant will be able to pay rent on time each month. If a prospective tenant’s income appears too low or if their credit history reveals a large number of debts or a history of late payments then the landlord is free to reject the application. It is at the landlord’s discretion to decide what a suitable income level is, but many landlords aim for tenants for whom rent will not account for more than a third of their incomes.

Previous landlords

A landlord can also check a prospective tenant’s references and is especially likely to do so if those references include former landlords. A landlord is free to reject a person’s rental application if his or her references reveal problems, such as damage that was incurred to previous properties the tenant occupied or noise complaints against the tenant. Additionally, a landlord can reject a rental application if the applicant was subject to an eviction notice.

Other rules

A landlord owns the building an applicant is trying to become a tenant of, meaning the landlord is largely allowed to choose who stays in that building so long as his or her choice does not violate anti-discrimination laws. Groups that are not protected by anti-discrimination laws, such as smokers and pet owners, can be rejected by landlords. Landlords are also allowed to reject applicants if they have a prior criminal conviction.

Anti-discrimination laws

The main reason a landlord is not allowed to reject a rental application is if the refusal violates federal or state anti-discrimination laws. Federal anti-discrimination laws prevent landlords from rejecting rental applications on the basis of race, age, gender, color, religion, origin, familial status, and/or a disability. States may have their own anti-discrimination laws that go further than federal protections, such as laws preventing refusals on the basis of marital status, sexual orientation, immigration status, or gender identity.

Knowing why a landlord can and cannot reject a rental application can help those who are looking for a new apartment save time by quickly recognizing places that they are more likely to qualify for. Of course, while landlords have a great deal of power when deciding which rental applications to accept or reject, many landlords are also open to negotiating with prospective tenants if an issue does arise.

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