Navigating the tenant screening process in Maryland can be a complicated task filled with potential pitfalls, especially if one is unaware of the frequently made mistakes. Understanding Maryland tenant laws, being aware of personal biases, ensuring complete reference checks, and maintaining consistent documentation are key aspects that need careful consideration. Lack of familiarity with the local tenant laws can lead to severe legal ramifications, while unchecked biases may hinder the objectivity of the screening. Meanwhile, incomplete reference checks can result in unfavorable tenants slipping through the cracks, and an unsystematic screening process can brew legal troubles. This discussion aims to shed light on these common mistakes, ensuring a fair and effective screening process.

Understanding Maryland Tenant Laws

Understanding Maryland’s Landlord and Tenant Laws

Landlord-tenant laws in Maryland are a critical element every landlord should understand to avoid common screening mistakes. Not having a clear grasp of these laws often results in landlords making errors during the screening process. Key areas covered under these laws include privacy rights, anti-discrimination laws, security deposit laws, and eviction laws.

Tenant Privacy Rights in Maryland

Every tenant in Maryland has a constitutional right to privacy. This means that landlords cannot invade the tenant’s privacy without providing reasonable notice, typically 24 hours, unless it’s an emergency. Violation of these rights can result in lawsuits and strained landlord-tenant relationships. Despite having the right to screen tenants, personal questions that infringe on an applicant’s privacy should be avoided.

Discrimination Laws

Anti-discrimination laws are one of the most crucial aspects of tenant screening in Maryland. The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, or national origin. In Maryland, additional protections cover marital status and sexual orientation. Landlords should avoid asking discriminatory questions or implementing policies that unfairly exclude individuals belonging to these protected groups.

Security Deposit Laws

Maryland law limits security deposits to a maximum of two months’ rent. Landlords are also required to return the deposit with interest to the tenant within 45 days of lease termination, provided the property is left in a satisfactory condition. Errors in handling security deposits are common and can result in penalties for the landlord.

Eviction Laws

Evictions are governed by detailed rules in Maryland. Landlords cannot start the eviction process without a legal cause such as non-payment of rent or violation of lease terms. Evictions for reasons not provided for by law, or “self-help” evictions conducted without court involvement, are illegal and can lead to legal issues for the landlord.

Credit and Background Check Laws

Consumer credit reports and background checks are common tools used in screening Maryland tenants. However, they must be conducted in compliance with the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). This means that landlords must obtain the applicant’s written permission, provide specific notifications if the information in the report results in an adverse action, and allow applicants the opportunity to correct inaccurate information.

It is vitally important for landlords in Maryland to understand and comply with the laws related to tenant screening. This ensures they find suitable tenants and avoids potential legal repercussions. Furthermore, it helps build trust with potential tenants, fostering healthy relationships. Hence the importance of landlords staying informed about tenant screening laws and common mistakes to avoid.

Illustration of a landlord and tenant in Maryland discussing their rights and obligations

Assumptions and Biases in Screening

Implicit Bias in Tenant Screening

Soft elements like unconscious bias can creep into the tenant screening process for Maryland landlords. Rather than relying completely on tangible factors such as rental history or financial stability, some landlords might gauge prospective tenants based on personal attributes like occupation, lifestyle, or past rental experiences. This bias, albeit unintentional, could reject potentially sound tenants, putting a dent on the potential rental income generation of the landlord.

Job and Lifestyle Based Assumptions

A common mistake made during tenant screening is to disproportionately factor in the nature of a tenant’s job. A tenant working a low-wage job might still be highly reliable and able to pay their rent each month without issue, especially if they have been consistently employed and have limited living expenses. Similarly, individual lifestyle choices, such as having non-traditional working hours, should not be perceived negatively. Income verification and financial responsibility should be the primary focus, rather than the nature of the job itself.

Critiquing Past Rental Experiences

Considering past rental experiences is another area where landlords sometimes err. All too often they may disregard potential tenants based on previous negative rental experiences, under the assumption that the past always repeats itself. However, it’s important to consider the nuances of these situations before drawing any conclusions. A tenant may have left their previous place due to a problematic landlord or unaffordable rent increase, not because of any misconduct or negligence on their part.

Maintaining Objectivity

To maintain objectivity during the tenant screening process, landlords in Maryland need to focus on objective, verifiable characteristics, such as the applicant’s ability to pay rent and their history of responsible behavior as a tenant. Verification could involve contacting previous landlords, conducting credit checks and verifying employment and income.

One way to ensure objectivity is through the use of an established screening criteria that’s used uniformly for all applicants. This reduces the possibility for bias since decisions are made based on defined, measurable factors predetermined by the landlord. Landlords should also take appropriate steps to familiarize themselves with the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits any form of discrimination against potential tenants, to ensure they are in compliance.


Conclusively, landlords in Maryland ought to carefully consider their tenant screening processes. It can be tempting to base evaluations of possible tenants on factors such as their employment, lifestyle, or past interactions, yet this can cause biased and erroneous conclusions. To ensure fair and accurate assessments, landlords should maintain an objective approach, focusing on solid, verifiable evidence about each applicant and steering clear of prejudice or presuppositions.

Illustration of two people with a barrier between them, symbolizing unconscious bias in tenant screening

Incomplete Reference Checks

Significance of Comprehensive Reference Checks

A frequent and substantial pitfall in tenant screening lies in undertaking incomplete checks on potential tenants’ references. Ensuring comprehensive reference checks is an indispensable step not just in Maryland, but everywhere else in the tenant screening process. This aids in gaining an all-inclusive insight into the potential tenant’s history, behavior patterns, trustworthiness, and dependability. Detecting potential issues early can protect a landlord or property manager from future disagreements or issues regarding rental payments.

Sources for Reference Checks

Typically, reference checks should include at least three categories: past landlords, employment verification, and personal references. First, past landlords can provide first-hand information on an applicant’s behavior as a tenant. They can provide detailed accounts of the applicant’s respect for property rules, timeliness in paying rent, habits that could be a nuisance to neighbors or damaging to the property, and cooperation with eviction, if applicable.

For employment checks

it is a common tendency to get verification of employment, but it is crucial to delve deeper. Apart from validating their employment, try to understand their role in the organization, their time span in the job, and possibly even about their character at the workplace. This information can be indicative of their ability to maintain steady income and contribute to a harmonious living environment.

When it comes to personal references

choose those that aren’t immediate family members. Friends, mentors or even previous roommates can offer insights into the applicant’s character and personal habits that might influence their tenancy.

Type of Information to Seek During Checks

The type of information to seek during checks depends on the source. For past landlords, find out if there were any rent payment issues, damage to property, or behavioral issues. Also, if possible, confirm the reason for leaving their previous residency.

For employment references

it is important to not only verify the employment status but also understand the stability of the applicant’s job, their job role and consistency in employment. This can indicate their potential ability to pay rent long term.

Personal references

should be asked about the applicant’s character and reliability. Questions about their responsibility, respect for others, cleanliness, and any risky habits can be illuminating.


It’s critical to remember that an insufficient tenant background check can result in serious problems for landlords and property managers. This common mistake often leaves one largely uninformed about a prospective tenant’s past behavior or habit. To avoid this oversight, you must ensure that your reference checks are in-depth and thorough. Remember, this forms an essential part of your tenant screening process in Maryland.

Illustration of a person holding a magnifying glass and examining documents.

Unsystematic Documentation and Screening Procedures

The Downfall of Inconsistent Tenant Screening

Another significant pitfall landlords in Maryland often stumble upon is a lack of a well-structured tenant screening procedure. Absence of a comprehensive and standard screening methodology could expose you to potential legal issues and fair housing violations. This usually occurs when landlords inconsistently apply their standards, or inadequately document their decisions and interactions, potentially leading to accidental discrimination allegations.

Maintaining Precise Records

Maintaining a precise record of all your interactions with tenants or potential tenants is not just a good business practice; it serves as a legal shield against accusations of discrimination or bias. This includes written communication, decisions taken, rental offers and rejections – basically every step in the tenant screening process. Be sure that notes are carefully dated and you can recount why an applicant was approved or denied based on objective and uniform criteria. Remember, the crux lies in maintaining a record that is thorough, clear, and indisputable.

Adopting a Standardized System

A standard, documented tenant screening procedure is essential in mitigating the risk of allegations of housing discrimination. This system can include step-by-step procedures for tasks like advertisement of the property, the application process, and reference checks. Key elements might be the verification of income and employment, checks of criminal history and credit, as well as references from previous landlords.

Avoiding Discriminatory Practices

While it is important to thoroughly screen prospective tenants, Maryland landlords should be wary of practices that might inadvertently discriminate. This means that every applicant is subject to the same screening process, irrespective of their race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, or national origin. Certain factors, like criminal history, might impact the process, but it’s crucial to use these in a way that doesn’t discriminate. For instance, landlords cannot reject an applicant solely based on an arrest without a subsequent conviction.

Adhering to State and Federal Laws

Finally, understanding and adhering to Maryland and federal housing laws is crucial to executing a fair and legal tenant screening process. This includes but is not limited to, the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Maryland Fair Housing Law. Landlords might find it beneficial to seek legal advice to ensure their procedures are in full compliance with these laws.

By avoiding these common mistakes, landlords can effectively screen prospective tenants, mitigate liabilities, and foster a successful landlord-tenant relationship.

Illustration of a person holding a checklist and examining a tenant application form.

Each step of the tenant screening process comes with its unique set of risks, and it’s crucial for landlords to be thorough and diligent to avoid potential legal complications. Understanding and following the Maryland tenant laws is a non-negotiable first step. Maintaining objectivity and eliminating any personal biases can ensure a fair assessment of all potential tenants. Completing detailed reference checks helps in getting an honest picture of the prospective tenants, while having a systematic documentation process leaves no room for error or dispute. By being aware of these common mistakes in tenant screening and making a conscious effort to avoid them, landlords can create a more equitable and efficient rental process, benefiting both themselves and their tenants.