What Every Landlord Must Know About Fair Housing

Did you know that you can be in violation of Fair Housing (and get fined for it) if you put “great family neighborhood” in your rental housing advertisement?

The Fair Housing Act is a piece of legislation that was created to help create equality in neighborhoods across the country. The Fair Housing Act was enacted on April 11th 1968 by President Lyndon Johnson. The act was meant to be a follow-up to The Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibited discrimination in public places, provided for the integration of schools and other public facilities, and made employment discrimination illegal. Here is an overview of the act and how it has affected and continues to affect the nation.

Top Things to Know about Fair Housing

Nationwide the Fair Housing Act protects people from discrimination in housing against race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. Landlords must ensure that they do not discriminate with their tenant selection process, accommodate people with disabilities, advertise appropriately, and do their research on protected classes. In 2018 the largest percentage of Fair Housing complaints filed were on the basis of disability.

What about Roommates?

When searching for a potential roommate, it is important to follow Fair Housing Laws. Choosing someone to live with is a personal decision and the FHA does not intend to interfere with relationships in the home. Therefore, the rules around Fair Housing are slightly more relaxed. However, discriminatory advertising is not allowed in all housing situations. You may not make a public discriminatory statement by saying, for example, that you wish to live with a female, a Jewish person, or straight person. It is only permissable to specify a preferred gender when people searching for a roommate will be sharing a bathroom, kitchen, or other common area.

Federal fair housing laws also prohibits landlords from discriminating in most circumstances. There is an exception if the landlord owns less than four units and lives in one of those units. The landlord then may make a personal choice, but may not express this discrimination in their advertisements.

10 Fair Housing Mistakes

It is easy for landlords find themselves in lawsuits due to fair housing regulations. Landlords often do not realize they are even violating any regulations. These are the top ten fair housing mistakes that people make.

  1. Failing to train everyone who interacts with customers on fair housing requirements. Train everyone from leasing, to management, to maintenance. If they talk to the public they need to be trained.

  2. Letting your maintenance team complete service requests in any order that they would like. To avoid any appearance of preferential treatment it is important that service team complete requests in the order which they came in.

  3. Not realizing that hoarding is a disability. If you encounter a resident that is hoarding, talk with your boss and figure out a solution.

  4. Telling a resident they may not have a service animal because you do not allow pets. A service animal is not considered a pet and you are required by law to allow them.

  5. Refusing to create a reserved parking spot for a tenant with a disability. Even if you already have plenty of handicap parking, work with your supervisor to accommodate the resident.

  6. Denying a rental application because you had a bad feeling about the tenant. This violates fair housing laws and you must stick to qualification guidelines, despite personal feelings you may have.

  7. Not keeping good records about your leasing tours. It is important to document everything including the apartments you showed and the rental rates you offered.

  8. Not realizing your state or city has protected classes in addition to the federal fair housing laws. It is important to do your research and visit websites like the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or Tenant-Landlord Laws by State to learn more about your state’s protected classes.

  9. Asking a prospective resident how many children they have. This may seem like an innocent question, but you do not want the potential tenant to think you are treating them differently because of their family size.

  10. Forbidding children from doing things. For example, stating “Children may not ride bikes on the sidewalk” is not allowed because they are part of a protected class and cannot be treated differently. Instead, the statement must be “No bike riding on the sidewalk”.

State Laws

Although there is a national fair housing standard, many states have adopted their own fair housing laws in order to expand on these protections. These include protections such as gender identity, source of income, age, and an individual’s sexual orientation.

Click your state below for a brief summary of its Fair Housing laws.

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Reporting a Fair Housing Claim

Here is the step-by-step process a tenant should take if they believe that they have been discriminated against in violation of the Fair Housing Act:

Step 1: File a report with HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development). An affronted person may also file a private civil suit or work directly with an agency that HUD approves of.

Step 2: Once a complaint is submitted, HUD investigates the case and determines whether or not there is reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred.

Step 3: If it is determined that there is reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred, HUD will issue a Determination of Reasonable Cause and a Charge of Discrimination.

Step 4: The plaintiff can then decided whether to take the case to federal court or conduct and administrative hearing. If the judge finds that discrimination did occur, the violator may be ordered to compensate the plaintiff for damages, make housing available, pay a civil penalty and/or pay reasonable attorney’s fees.

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