When it comes to housing, the Fair Housing Act protects individuals and families from landlord discrimination. Unfortunately, there are a number of people who still don’t understand the basics of this fundamental law.
Making discrimination lawsuits more common than necessary between sellers and buyers, and between landlords and tenants.
So, if you’re a landlord seeking more information about fair housing and equal opportunity, here are the answers to some of the most common questions.
What is the Fair Housing Act?
The Federal Fair Housing Act helps prevent discrimination in the provision of housing.
The goal of the act is to ensure that every American is treated equally and fairly in any housing-related activity. The act applies to:
- Acquiring a mortgage loan
- Selling a property
When was the Fair Housing Act enacted?
The public clamor for fairness and equality began in the 19th century. In that time, discrimination in housing was commonplace. However, it wasn’t until 1968 that the bill was enacted into law.
One of the bill’s strongest supporters was Martin Luther King, Jr. Sadly, Martin Luther King Jr. died a week before he could witness the landmark passing of the bill into Congress.
Prior to the passing of the bill, discrimination in housing was rife. Then, there were attempts to segregate whole neighborhoods based on classes like race. Qualified tenants were out rightly rejected.
Today, while subtle, housing discrimination is still a sad reality.
At times, prospective tenants who live with disabilities are denied housing because the owner does not allow service pets or refuses to make proper accommodations.
In other cases, the housing providers may try to disguise their discrimination by providing misleading information in their rental ad.
What classes of people are protected under the FHA?
At the basic level, the Federal Fair Housing Act lists 7 protected classes:
- National origin
- Familial status
Additionally, two more classes were added to the act as of 2017. These are gender identity and sexual orientation.
Different states may also have additional protected classes, so make sure to check your local laws.
6 Tips for Staying Compliant with the Fair Housing Act
1. Avoid making discriminative statements when advertising your rental property.
As you probably know, the first step in finding a tenant for your rental unit is advertising. Ensuring that you adhere to the Fair Housing laws when writing your rental listing is very important.
Examples of discriminative statements to avoid in your rental ad include:
- Great for a female student
- No pets allowed
- Perfect for a mature individual or couple
- Suitable for a working individual
Including any of these statements in your rental ad is a violation of the Fair Housing Act. As a property owner, it’s your responsibility to ensure that all prospective tenants are given an equal chance.
Rather than focusing on describing your ideal tenant, try pointing out the units selling points instead.
2. Avoid asking discriminative questions when screening tenants.
As a landlord or property owner, picking qualified tenants is key to your business’ success. What better way to improve your chances of landing the right one than to screen all applicants?
The right screening process helps separate the good from the bad applicants. While doing so, however, it’s crucial to only ask questions that adhere to the Fair Housing Act.
Avoid asking tenant questions like:
- Do you enjoy the church we have in our neighborhood? A prospective renter may assume that you only rent to Christians.
- How many children do you have? Familial status is a protected class. As innocent as the question may seem, a potential renter may feel pre-judged. You could, however, ask the tenant how many occupants there will be living in the property.
- Do you have a service dog? Disability is a protected class. The renter could always interpret this question to mean that you don’t like renting to disabled people. That said, you could ask for the animal’s certification status.
3. Avoid inconsistencies when it comes to rental rules.
The landlord-tenant relationship is one that is marred by many disputes. From security deposits to rent-related issues, disputes come in all shapes and sizes.
Strict rental rules are a good place to start when trying to limit tenant problems.
However, having rental rules is one thing and enforcing them is another.
To run a successful rental business, you’ll not only need to enforce the rental rules, but you’ll also need to do so consistently. All tenants are subject to the same rental rules, regardless of who they are.
Moreover, ensure you are not discriminating against certain renters. Avoid making statements like “children should not be rowdy in the hallways.” You should change the references to “residents and guests”.
To be safe, make sure you act accordingly if any renter were to violate the terms of the lease.
4. Do research on additional protected classes.
The Fair Housing Act protects certain classes of people from discrimination. As mentioned before, these classes include familial status, race, color, sex, disability, national origin, and religion.
While indeed the Fair Housing Law is the law of the land, many individual states have adopted their own laws. These usually include:
- Member of the military
- Status as a student
- Marital status
- Sexual orientation
- Source of income
As such, make sure to do research in regard to the laws in your specific jurisdiction. A quick Google search can help you. Alternatively, seek professional help from a qualified local attorney.
5. Ensure you have legally justified reasons to evict your tenant.
Any eviction that takes place must be based on legally justified reasons. Good examples include non-payment of rent, lease expiration, criminal or drug-related activity, and excessive property damage. Retaliatory evictions are never legal.
There you have it. Everything you need to know about Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. If you still need help on some issues, reach out to a local real estate professional.