COACH's Pop Quiz!

Can You Reject Applicants Based on Their Immigration Status?   


Which of the following reasons is a legitimate reason to reject applicants who aren’t U.S. citizens?

a.            Being a U.S. citizen is required for leasing property under HUD program rules and/or state or local law.

b.            A non-U.S. citizen is generally less likely to pay rent on time each month.

c.             Non-U.S. citizens are totally judgment-proof.



Correct answer: a

Denying housing to applicants because they’re non-U.S. citizens may constitute national origin, racial, or religious discrimination under the FHA; it may also be illegal under state or local fair housing laws. On the other hand, leasing to somebody you know not to be a U.S. citizen may violate Section 8 and other HUD program rules, as well as state and municipal laws.

What are landlords to do? The answer is to be aware of and follow whichever rules apply to their own property and ensure they have a sound, nondiscriminatory justification for whichever policy they choose. The fact that HUD program rules and/or state or local laws require landlords to verify that applicants are U.S. citizens before accepting them is a legitimate, nondiscriminatory justification. So, a is the right answer.

Wrong answers explained:

b.            The assumption that noncitizens are less likely to pay rent is just that—an assumption, and one based on stereotypes. Consequently, it wouldn’t be a sound justification for requiring applicants to be U.S. citizens.

c.             The reason c is wrong is that it’s overstated. While evicting or suing a noncitizen for lease violations poses challenges, it’s not accurate to characterize immigrants as “judgment-proof.” In fact, persons in the U.S. illegally are likely to be far more amenable to threats of litigation.

For more information on fair housing issues that arise when leasing to noncitizens, see the Coach’s February lesson, “Illegal Immigration and Fair Housing Liability Risks,” available to premium subscribers here.