If you spend any significant amount of time as a landlord, the names and faces of applicants you reject for housing will become a blur. In many cases, those applicants will be little more to you than a credit report and information on a written application. But if you fail to keep a record of the documentation provided by each rejected applicant, it may come back to haunt you.
In a housing discrimination lawsuit, you can find your defense hamstrung if you failed to maintain records related to the rejected application. Without documentation, a discrimination case can devolve into a “he said, she said” situation that could lead to an unfavorable and unfair result for you.
Your best defense in these cases is to carefully maintain these records: but how long should you keep them? Ultimately, you should hold onto an application for as long as it is possible for that rejected applicant to file suit against you. That length of time depends on what is known as the statute of limitations.
Notable Statutes of Limitation
Both state and federal housing discrimination laws set a time limit on when a lawsuit may be filed. Known as the statute of limitations, these requirements are designed to prevent unnecessary delay in the filing of a lawsuit. The statute of limitations for a discrimination suit depends on whether a claim is filed under state or federal law.
Wisconsin Fair Housing Law
Wisconsin has its own state law prohibiting discrimination in housing decisions. The law prohibits discrimination for a number of protected classes, including:
- Marital Status
- Sexual Orientation.
Under the Wisconsin Fair Housing Law, all discrimination lawsuits must be filed within one year from the date the application was rejected.
Fair Housing Act
Discrimination in housing is also prohibited under federal law by the Fair Housing Act. Much like with Wisconsin state law, the Fair Housing Act outlaws discriminating against certain protected classes in rental application decisions.
Federal law differs from the state housing law as the statute of limitations for a discrimination claim is two years.
What to Keep and How Long to Keep It
It is the best practice to hold onto a rental application for at least two years from the date an application is denied. While the right to file a state law complaint might extinguish after a year, the possibility of a federal claim still exists for two years. After that, it is up to you when you destroy your records. While space is an issue for some, there is no requirement that you ever get rid of housing applications.
It is worth noting that you should keep more than just the application itself. For starters, always keep any documentation attached to the application. The documents attached to an application may help your defense, especially if they were part of the basis of your decision.
Finally, if you have any written internal guidelines that you use when making rental decisions, it is worth holding on to those as well. Documenting the process you use to ensure fairness in your decisions can go a long way in court. Contact attorney Brian Schuk to discuss any landlord-tenant questions you might have.