As a landlord or property manager, it is essential to understand the different laws pertaining to rental housing that are in place to protect tenants. Fair Housing is a component under the federal law which refers to the right everyone has to rent a place regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status or disability. Besides the federal law, each state and local governments have their own versions of Fair Housing laws that landlords would have to take note of.
Here is an explanation of some components of the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA).
Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords are prohibited from discriminating against a person who falls under one or more of the protected classes. Discrimination in this case refers to treating them differently. To avoid being viewed as discriminatory, landlords should treat all potential tenants who are interested in their property the same way and answer their queries in a standardized manner.
A landlord should also watch the questions or suggestions they provide to potential tenants as it might come across as discriminatory, such as asking questions regarding their marital status. The best practice would be to let the potential tenant ask the questions and the landlord will just have to answer them factually.
(There may be other protected classes under additional state or local laws, such as LGBT status, income, age and sexual orientation.)
There are some special rules for different protected classes. When it concerns families, landlords are prohibited from rejecting interested tenants just because they have children. Even directing them to other properties that are more suitable for children is not allowed and considered discriminatory.
When it concerns disabled tenants, a landlord must comply with the following special rules:
Reasonable Accommodation refers to requests that a disabled tenant can make for an exception to the rules and policies of the rental. This includes allowing a live-in caregiver or a service animal, which is not considered a pet. The extra costs (often little to no cost) of these exceptions have to be borne by the landlord and cannot be charged to tenant.
Reasonable Modifications refers to changes being made to the property so as to give the tenant access to all the amenities, such as grab bars in the bathroom or ramps at the entryway. The cost of these can either be borne by the landlord or the tenant, depending on the arrangement.
Tenants with disabilities might make requests under these two categories, but the landlord should always wait for the tenant to make these request instead of suggesting it as it may be perceived as discriminatory. To refuse the tenant’s request, the landlord would have to issue a letter explaining the reasons behind the refusal, which has to be substantiated with facts.
It would be best for a landlord to document all interactions with potential tenants which could be served as evidence when accused of being discriminatory.
When advertising their rental properties, landlords must ensure that there are no discriminatory statements in their advertisements. They should not word their advertisement in ways that would seem as though they are looking for or excluding a specific group of tenants such as young couples. The focus of the advertisement should be on the property and not the prospective tenant.
Landlords are also not allowed to falsely state that their property is not available just to deter “unwanted” tenants.
Steering is the act of trying to defer or recommend a potential tenant to a property based on the protected classes. For instance, recommending a property in the Asian community just because the potential tenant is Asian or not showing them a property near a school just because they do not have children.
Landlords should always provide all potential tenants with all their available listings and focus on facts instead of assumptions when recommending properties.
Renter Applications and Screening
When reviewing potential tenants, landlords should establish and document a set of criteria that they require them to meet to be considered for tenancy. Landlords can request for tenants to provide information regarding source of income, credit score and criminal record, which will then be used as the criteria to evaluate the suitability of that tenant.
By establishing a standard set of criteria, the landlord will be able to clearly filter through tenants who do not meet their requirements and reject them based on a valid reason. Landlords should always document all applications and screening documents that can be used as evidence in the future if accused of being discriminatory.
Apartment Policies and Rule
Landlords are allowed to set policies and rules for their properties, but they would have to ensure that these policies and rules are applied to all tenants and not only a certain group of tenants. They are also allowed to set a maximum occupancy for their property by stating the number of “people” they allow and never “children” as that would mean they are limiting the number of children allowed (infants under the age of 1 are not considered as occupants). Landlords should familiarize themselves with their state’s laws on maximum occupancy when setting a maximum occupancy for their property.
Landlords should always document all interactions with potential tenants and keep all rental applications and credit reports (check with state how long these documents should be kept). These could possibly be used as evidence when accused of being discriminatory. When accused, the landlord should not retaliate but instead immediately contact a legal professional.
The Fair Housing Act is important for all landlords and their employees. It is essential that everyone is trained and understands all the laws and practices to ensure that their rental business is compliant.
Information from: https://www.zillow.com/rental-manager/resources/articles/fair-housing-guide/?utm_source=email&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=emm_zrm_fairhousing_041816_text