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illegal rental application questionsWhere are you from?

Seems a harmless question, but as one Boston-area property manager recently discovered, it can be toxic. A housing court ordered him to pay $10,000 to the tenant for her emotional distress, a civil penalty of $7,500 for a first offense, $31,793.97 in attorney’s fees and $12,473.92 in costs.

That’s because Massachusetts law and Boston’s Fair Housing regulations make it illegal for this property manager — who was also a licensed real estate agent — to ask any questions concerning national origin. The information cannot be recorded, either.


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It is unclear whether the question was policy, or just small talk. Unfortunately, the answer to his question revealed that the tenant was from another country. That, the tenant claims, made her fearful that she would not be able to find an apartment to rent. It didn’t happen, but the court said she was still entitled to damages for the period of time she suffered stress and anxiety.

In an appeal earlier this year, a higher court reduced the emotional distress damages, which likely will have a ripple effect on the remainder of the award, including the attorneys fees. Part of the reason for the reduction was the appellate court’s finding that roughly half of the tenant’s distress was due to another lawsuit that she filed against another realty firm.

Still, the case gives pause to reflect on the wisdom of making conversation with rental applicants — especially if there is a rental application on the desk.


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California passed a similar discrimination law that prevents landlords from demanding a Social Security number as a condition to completing a rental application because that can be viewed as discriminatory towards immigrants.

The lesson: make sure you know the law when it comes to interviewing tenants. And, nix the small talk — because a simple slip of the tongue could cost you your profits.

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  • Jen

    Lol that’s funny, section 8 here in CT pays rent for an illegal aliens, she is not eligible but her three children are. So how do her children rent a place but not mom?

  • Jen

    All people in Connecticut, including Illegal immigrants, have the following rights:

    To be paid at least minimum wage, be paid for overtime, and sue for wages if their employer refuses to pay them.

    If they are hurt at work, get workers compensation benefits including payment for lost wages, medical care and permanent disability.

    File for divorce, child custody or child support.

    File a personal injury lawsuit if they are injured in a car crash or other accident.

    Have the same rights as citizens if they are arrested, including the right to a lawyer.

    Own a business.

    Buy and sell real estate, including investment property.

    File bankruptcy if they have more debt than the can pay back or if they are trying to save a home from foreclosure.

    Rent apartments and other property and be free of interference from their landlords.

    Make wills and inherit property.

  • 321cam

    No they do not. Illegal aliens are just that Illegal. They do NOT have rights to get a job or rent. They do NOT have a social security number and you have to have a SSN to get a job legally. They are supposed to be deported because they snuck across the border like a cockroach (actually I would like to live near cockroaches more than illegals). You are so very wrong in some of the items that you say illegals get. Some you are correct but some you are wrong. They do not have the right to work since they need SSN and they do not have the right to rent since I require renters to be here legally. If they are here on a temp visa, as long as the temp visa does NOT expire during the one year lease then I will possibly rent to them (depending on their income and total monthly debt like all other prospective tenants). If their visa expires within a year I won’t rent to them until they get it renewed or extended. This is my right since they can not enter into a 1 year lease if they only have 9 months left in the country. But I will NOT rent to an illegal AND as an employer at 321cam I won’t hire them either EVER.

  • 321cam

    You are incorrect. They are not Illegal immigrants, they are not immigrants but trespassers and Illegal aliens. It is illegal to hire illegal aliens since they can not work in the country anywhere legally. We have 32 employees including the owner and we do not hire illegal aliens and we state so. (plus I am a landlord of 6 houses and one small apartment building and I do not take applications from illegal aliens and if they are found to be one we will evict them since they lied in their application by stating they are legal. * we can evict since lying in a rental application is grounds for eviction in all states in the US.

  • 321cam

    We are NOT wrong at night whisper. You do not have to take an application from illegal aliens. If they state they are legal aliens or legal aliens or even a citizen on the application and you rent to them, then you find out they lied on the application, then you can evict them for lying on the rental application. All states allow landlords to evict if someone lied on the rental application.

    I own 6 houses and an apartment building and I clearly state I don’t rent to illegal aliens. If they have a work visa I state that if it expires during the proposed rental period I won’t rent to them unless they can get an extension before they move in. If it expires after the one year annual lease then I will considered them and start checking employment income and total monthly debt.

  • Hubcap Axelrod

    You sound like another of us fed up with all this PC. stuff.
    And all the racist stuff today.
    These a-holes have painted themselves into a corner.
    You can have all these rules, until you have so many, you can no longer talk, or move without breaking one of them.
    And enough with the “air quotes” already.
    It makes you look like a lobster.

  • Hubcap Axelrod


  • Hubcap Axelrod

    I am a so called landlord.
    Have had people come in and try telling me what the rent is going to be.
    Telling me out there is where they would breed their pitbulls.
    Don’t get me wrong, I like pits, but this 2 1/2 acres isn’t being rented, just the house, and lawn.

    Another bunch came in, wife being a gospel singer, he was her aid I suppose.
    They had bonfires, and pow wows in the back.
    Trash everywhere. Us landlords have a hard time getting rid of bad tenants.
    Last one moved out owing 8 months rent. Fat chance to get that one back.

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