Tenant Screening

Educate, Legislate,
Fair Chance Housing Ordinances

On February 4, 2020, the Oakland City Council unanimously approved the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance. Oakland rental property owners are no longer allowed to screen applicants for criminal history, as per Ordinance No. 13581 C.M.S., O.M.C. 8.25.

On March 10 2020, the Berkeley City Council approved the Fair Chance Housing Ordinance. Berkeley rental property owners are no longer allowed to screen applicants for criminal history, as per Ordinance No. 7,692-N.S.

Notice to Rental Property Owners 13581

Ordinance No. 13581 C.M.S., O.M.C. 8.25

Read More at Bornstein Law: Oakland Bans Criminal Background Checks in Tenant Screening

Should I screen applicants?

YES! Resident screening is an essential tool when evaluating applicants, providing an important financial and rental history profile. Thorough screening is the only way to make an informed decision about your next residency.

EBRHA Resident Screening Service

EBRHA offers members low-cost online resident screening, available online 24/7. Partnered with Contemporary Information Corp. (CIC), screening has one objective: to make sure your leasing decisions make the greatest possible contribution to your bottom line. Click here to learn more and sign up today.  

Screening Someone Without A Social Security Number
  • Do not automatically disqualify residents for lack of a social security number. Rental owners can evaluate applicants in various ways (e.g. verifying income or rental history). However, without a  social security number it may be impossible to run background checks, which are part of the recommended screening criteria. 
  • Consider conditional acceptance of an applicant (such as requiring a co-signer or guarantor).
  • Any person who is not a citizen and is working in the US will probably have a Taxpayer Identification Number. 
  • If you can’t verify background, you may choose to go to the next applicant.

Immigrant Status
  • Owners/managers cannot inquire or require information (written or orally) regarding immigration status of a rental applicant, resident or occupant (Civil Code 1940.3) in the rental listing or during the application process.
  • However, this does not prohibit the owner from asking for government-issued photo identification.

Other Important Guidelines
Application Fee
  • Maximum allowable application fee an owner can charge in 2020: $50.94 (Not to exceed the owner's out-of-pocket expenses, per Civil Code 1950.6)

First Qualified Applicant

To avoid potential conflicts or fair housing complaints, fair housing organizations recommend that you rent to the first QUALIFIED applicant based on above stated rental criteria.

  • Best practice: Evaluate one application at a time in the order received, and return all unused credit check fees to applicants who were not screened.

Rental References: Questions to Ask
  • Did applicant live at your property during the time period indicated? If not what were the dates of occupancy?
  • How many times during the past 12 months did applicant pay rent late?
  • Was any check from applicant returned due to non-sufficient funds?
  • Did you ever file for an unlawful detainer against applicant for unpaid rent? If so, what was the result?
  • Did applicant provide notice for ending residency according to the terms of the rental agreement?
  • Does this person have an open account with your bank? Can I have a rating?

Occupancy Guidelines
  • There are no laws regarding an owner’s ability to limit occupancy standards in a unit, but there are guidelines.
  • The Department of Fair Employment and Housing has used a “2 per bedroom plus 1 additional person” as an enforceable standard. Per this standard, a two-bedroom unit could accommodate 5 people (i.e., two in each bedroom + one in the living room). 
  • Occupancy standards can be challenged, so rental owners should consult with a Fair Housing specialist for more information, and consider factors like size of the unit.

House Rules

House rules ensure that all residents are aware of the expectations concerning noise, smoking, use of facilities, guest stays, parking, garbage/recycling practices, storage, etc. House rules must apply to all residents equally.  You can establish specific house rules for your property through the Rental Agreement Addendum.


Owners are encouraged to have insurance for coverage against wrongful eviction especially in Just Cause/eviction controlled jurisdictions. Rent laws in California and the Bay Area make it lucrative for tenants to sue owners. Many local eviction ordinances allow tenants to recover damages if they prevail in litigation.

Record Keeping Laws
  • Keep submitted rental applications, including denied applications, in a lockable file cabinet for at least 5 years. Any notes and associated forms should be clipped to the  application.
  • Credit reports should be in a lockable file cabinet for 6 years

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