Mar 18

On one of the landlording email list I participate in the following question was asked:

Am I obligated by law to rent to someone who does not speak English? I don’t have a problem with their ethnicity, but I see ALL kinds of problems ahead if they don’t speak or read English.

I think this is an important enough issue to share it here  – cleaned up from my original post :

While language is neither a Federal nor a Wisconsin protected class,  you need to be careful that the rejection is is not perceived to be discrimination against national origin, which is a protected class.


If you were rejecting applicants that do not speak English how would you respond to a hearing impaired applicant?  They do not speak English yet are clearly a protected class.

Even if you avoid a discrimination claim with your policy of only accepting people who spoke English you will be harming your business in the process by limiting the pool of prospective tenants  for your vacancies.

I do not speak Spanish, however we built a heck of a business by making our company more accessible to Milwaukee’s large Spanish speaking population by hiring bilingual front line staff.  Our occupancy, and therefore collection rates, are far above what our competitors are telling us theirs are.

We also have had many tenants that speak neither English nor Spanish and have not had any serious problems due to this.  Most come to apply with an interpreter.   In most metropolitan areas there are also organizations such as the Spanish Center or Hmong Community.  We had a Russian tenant who spoke very little English.  We were able to communicate with them through a pastor at their church.

You should get the interrupter’s contact information so you are prepared if a future need arises. Also a quick internet search will most likely find an organization that can help you communicate with the tenant.

So you may find trying to work through the language barriers to be a bit more difficult, but also reaping rewards for the efforts.


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