Typically, housing background checks take a look at the criminal records and credit histories of those applying to rent or lease properties. Landlords run these checks to protect themselves from financially unreliable tenants and to protect their other residents from potentially dangerous neighbors.
Just like with pre-employment background checks, housing checks are necessary to protect landlords from legal responsibility in the case of an incident. If a landlord failed to run a background check on a tenant who turned out to be a convicted rapist, and that tenant sexually assaulted a roommate or neighbor, the landlord could be found legally liable on the basis of negligence. For this very reason, there are no laws on the books that bar landlords from vetting their prospective tenants—just like there are no laws prohibiting the use of pre-employment background checks.
Now, though, a Florida State Representative wants to eliminate housing background check requirements for veterans. Charles Van Zant, a Republican member of the Florida House of Representatives, has proposed a bill that would make such special treatment the law throughout the state of Florida.
It's fairly clear that Van Zant means the bill as a way to better honor veterans and help them to reintegrate into society after serving in combat zones or other military scenarios. If a prospective tenant were to present "proof of active military service," a landlord or homeowner's association would not only be required to waive their background check requirements but would also be expected to limit advanced rent or deposit payments and process applications within an expedited time frame.
While Van Zant obviously means well, though, his bill is both unfair and possibly dangerous. On one hand, it handcuffs landlords and homeowner's associations, making it impossible for them to do their due diligence in vetting applicants. The bill would essentially require that housing applications from veterans be accepted carte blanche, no questions asked. Such a mandate could force landlords into situations where they would have to deal with tenants unable to pay rent or perhaps even tenants who might be violent or unsafe.
In a report from Clay Today, a news publication based in Clay County, Florida, a nearby VFW commander even said he didn't think veterans should get free passes to rent property if they have bad credit. Another close-to-the-military source mentioned the mental health issues that are sometimes a concern for veterans returning from combat zones. Background checks can sometimes help to identify warning signs for these issues—meaning that forbidding landlords from running checks on veterans could pose a risk to all involved parties.
Bottom line, this particular bill is good-hearted, but misguided. Van Zant surely intends to make life easier for the men and women who have served this country. Such assistance should not come by robbing landlords, apartment complexes, and homeowner's associations of their right to vet new applicants.
About Michael Klazema The author
Michael Klazema is Chief Marketing Technologist at EY-VODW.com and has over two decades of experience in digital consulting, online product management, and technology innovation. He is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments.