Can a Landlord Require Employment Verification from a Prospective Tenant?

April 5, 2023

- By Kate Berard

The short answer is No.

Landlords want to know if the tenant applicant will pay the rent on time, keep the apartment in good condition and be a good neighbor, however, they are limited in permissible screening inquiries by Massachusetts law.

They often use the services of a REALTOR® to market the property, facilitate tenant applications and guide the Landlord in their screening process. The prudent REALTOR® must be familiar with permissible screening and fair housing concerns.

I want to make sure the prospective tenant can afford the monthly rent, so why can’t I require employment verification?

Looking at a prospective tenant’s income is a permissible means of screening. However, when you require employment verification, this can lead to discrimination based on source of income which is illegal in Massachusetts. Housing providers are not allowed to require an applicant for an apartment to have a particular type of income, such as income from a job. This is because some recipients of public assistance, such as those with SSDI benefits, may not be employed, but may still be qualified to rent the apartment.

Specifically, this means that landlords, property managers, and real estate agents or brokers cannot: refuse to negotiate for or rent housing to a voucher holder; set different terms or conditions; refuse to comply with a requirement of the rental assistance program; tell a voucher holder that housing is not available; place an advertisement for housing that says people with a voucher cannot apply or otherwise discourages them from applying; using qualification procedures that exclude vouchers holders such as requiring evidence of employment.

This applies equally to prospective tenants who rely on temporary or emergency rental assistance including those provided through the Massachusetts HomeBASE or Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (“RAFT”) programs, or other local programs.

The voucher program is going to require an inspection, can I deny the applicant because those repairs will be too costly for my Landlord? 

No. A Landlord cannot deny a prospective tenant because potential or required repairs from a housing quality inspection are too costly. If a housing provider refuses to make these repairs due to cost and refuses to continue with a voucher holder’s application for that reason entirely may be in violation of Massachusetts law.

Remember, the housing quality standards required by the rental assistance voucher programs generally match the standards required in the Massachusetts State Sanitary Code which applies to all apartments in Massachusetts. When a housing quality inspection identifies conditions in need of repair, those conditions may also be sanitary code violations that would need be repaired to rent the apartment to any person, no matter their source of income.

REALTOR® practice note: Be careful of a potential disparate impact to voucher holders when charging a tenant-paid broker fee or application fee.