Federal Law makes it illegal to discriminate in connection with rental housing based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin. You can discriminate for many other things. I discriminate all the time. I won’t accept anyone who has had a felony or more than 2 misdemeanors in the past 5 years. I won’t accept anyone who has been evicted in the past 5 years. I won’t accept anyone who has had their utilities shut off in the past year. I won’t accept anyone who has any record of illegal drugs in the past 5 years. I won’t take anyone who looks like a hoodlum. People with tattoos all over their face and hands; baggy pants that must be held up with one hand; showing up in a car that is filled to the windows with beer cans; are not acceptable to me. This is not personal. In fact, I could care less if a person has 100% of their body covered in tattoos; has to use both hands to hold up their pants; or has enough beer cans to start a recycling center.
My business is about making money. People who try to look like hoodlums usually are hoodlums. Accepting hoodlums into your rentals is not a good business decision, because they have a high probability of becoming liabilities and costing me money.
Back to your question. It is completely legal under the federal anti-discrimination laws to not accept Section 8 tenants. Do a google search of “federal fair housing law”. You might also want to search your state fair housing law. I assume that Henry lives in Ma, which is a blue state. Blue states and some big cities may certainly have more restrictive local laws concerning discrimination. It is absolutely imperative that you know all of the laws and rules in your investment area! I am not aware of any law that prevents advertising “no section 8” tenants here in Ohio, but that is like proving a negative. Advertising “No Section 8” tenants may indeed be illegal in your area.
From a practical standpoint, I would not discriminate against Section 8 tenants. They are absolutely no different than any other tenants - no better and no worse. The only negative with Section 8 tenants is the hassle of the paperwork and inspections that Section 8 requires. Otherwise, the tenants are exactly the same.
If you can get the rent you want, then I would take the first suitable applicant, whether they are section 8 or not.
As for screening, I agree 100% with Henry about getting an application fee. You can find tenant screening companies by doing a google search for “tenant screening”. National Tenant Network is one company that does these screenings, both credit checks and ciminal checks.
You can often do a local criminal check for free from your computer. Siimply visit your local court websites (both municipal court and common pleas court) and search the docket for your applicant. Very easy and free.
I am not a lawyer and don’t even pretend to be one on the internet. This is not legal advice, blah, blah, blah, blah.