QWhy is it so difficult to obtain a rental after bankruptcy? I have been discharged for a little over a year and have had the hardest time renting. I am well over the income requirements and feel that I'm being punished for filing bankruptcy. I have a stable job and have worked at the same company for almost 14 years. I am a single mother of three and am financially able and willing to pay rent. What can I do?

A Landlords' attorney

Smith replies:

Proper tenant screening is a cornerstone of sound property management. Tenant selection includes evaluating income, credit and rental history. Each plays an important role in the rental decision process. Landlords and property management companies have policies that are similar to banks and other lending institutions and have the right to set uniform criteria for all prospective tenants, which will be the basis for acceptance or rejection.

Although your income and rental history seem to satisfy this landlord's requirements, he has decided that the bankruptcy and your credit history give him the right for rental denial. It is legal to have this rental selection policy even though the bankruptcy resulted in a discharge of prior debts. It is relevant to the present rental process because it shows prior credit problems.

Still, some management companies are more flexible and are willing to negotiate in light of the bankruptcy. For example, you can pay a higher security deposit. Others may consider a guarantor. Still others may have a policy in which they ignore a discharged bankruptcy. One way or another, you should be able to find housing. The best way is to negotiate with prepaid rent or a higher deposit.

Tenants' attorney Kellman replies:

Remember, bankruptcy is a procedure allowed and protected by federal law. It is designed to give people a fresh start after suffering financial troubles.

Landlords may consider a past bankruptcy as well as other aspects of a tenant's credit profile. If the bankruptcy was a complete discharge (Chapter 7), the landlord should feel more secure in renting since that tenant cannot file another one for seven years. Thus, this rent must be paid.

Landlords are allowed to deny housing based on credit issues such as bankruptcy as long as that standard is applied equally. In other words, they cannot use the bankruptcy as an excuse to deny a specific tenant housing to cover other improper motives.

Landlords should look beyond the mere existence of bankruptcy and look to the overall history of the tenant's credit. Perhaps the bankruptcy was forced by a death, divorce or unexpected medical bills from an accident or unforeseen illness. Be prepared to show the landlord that other than this speed bump on your credit road, all other aspects of your credit are smooth and clear.

We rent a three-bedroom, multilevel house. Our neighbor has an older, one-story home with a fireplace and chimney below the level of the bedroom windows on our house. On cool days and evenings, he burns magazines and newspapers in the fireplace and the reeking smoke comes pouring right into our house. It is so bad that it seeps in even when the windows are closed. After we complained to our landlord, he called the local air pollution control board. They told him there was nothing they could legally do to stop the neighbor from creating this awful smoke but offered to mail the neighbor a pamphlet about how to use a fireplace. The neighbor is a renter. Can we complain to his landlord? What should we do?

Landlords' attorney Smith replies:

I sympathize with your situation. However, your landlord is not in control of the neighboring property. This limits what your landlord can or should do for you regarding the noxious fumes from the adjacent chimney.

Both of you should take action against the neighboring landlord and the tenant. The smoke constitutes a nuisance and interference with your quiet enjoyment.

Write a letter to both the tenant and landlord requesting that this be stopped. If they fail to comply, then consider further legal proceedings.

This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold and San Diego lawyers Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenant's Legal Center, and Ted Smith, principal in a firm representing landlords. E-mail your questions to Griswold at rgriswold.inman@retodayradio.com. Questions should be brief and cannot be answered individually.

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