The Fair Housing Act gives every American the right to equal treatment when it comes to housing. For this reason, this piece of legislation is especially important for landlords and property managers.
Sadly, there are still many landlords and property managers who don’t know much about the Fair Housing Act. That is why it isn’t uncommon to find housing providers and sellers fighting these housing discrimination lawsuits.
So, if you are a landlord seeking to know more about the Fair Housing Act, then this post is meant for you.
What is the Fair Housing Act?
As amended in 1988, the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of 7 protected classes. The fair housing protected classes are familial status, disability, religion, race, skin color, nationality, and sex.
The FHA was created under turbulent circumstances during a very unstable period of American history. At the time, housing discrimination was quite rampant and there was mounting pressure to change the status quo.
Among other things, this pressure led to the birth of the famous Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Shortly after, two important pieces of legislation were formed – the Rumford Fair Housing Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Some few years later, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 was formed. Its passing came just a week after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
Then, only four classes of people were protected. These were: religion, national origin, color, and race. Later, familial status, disability, and sex were added to the list of protected classes.
And two years ago, a federal judge gave a ruling that included gender and sexual orientation to the list of protected classes.
Now that you know how the Act came to be, here are 4 vital things every landlord or property manager should pay attention to.
1. Property Advertisement
As every landlord knows, advertising a rental property is the first step to finding a good tenant. The key, however, is ensuring that the process is fair and free from discrimination.
Below are some examples of statements that may be going against the housing discrimination laws.
- “No young men” or “Female preferred”
- “Perfect for singles or couples” or “Nice, quiet, mature neighborhood”
- “No Hispanics” or “Whites only”
- “Christians only” or “No Muslims”
Including any of these statements in your rental advertisement is illegal as per the Fair Housing Act.
To be on the safer side, focus on describing your property rather than describing your ideal tenant.
2. Tenant Screening
Screening tenants is a time-consuming but very important process. Done the right way, it will help limit future problems.
If you are like most landlords, your screening process begins at the first contact you make with prospective renters. This contact could be through a call, a text, or during the property showing.
It’s during this time that most landlords, often inadvertently, make discriminatory remarks. Examples include:
- “Are you Chinese or Korean?” - This is discriminatory as race is a protected class under the Fair Housing Act.
- “Do you have a service dog?” - The renter could interpret this to mean that you don’t rent to the disabled. Disability is a protected class. You could, however, ask for the certification status of the animal.
- “Do you have kids?” - This is also discriminatory as familial status is protected under Fair Housing Laws. You could, however, ask how many occupants there will be.
- “Do you like the church we have in our neighborhood?” – Another protected class is religion. A renter may interpret your question to mean that you only rent to Christians.
Additionally, you should use the same qualifying standards on all the prospective renters. For example, it would be discriminatory to only perform credit checks on African Americans and Asians and not on others.
3. Additional Protected Classes
At the federal level, the Act protects seven classes of people. That is familial status, color, national origin, disability, race, religion, and sex.
In addition to these classes, various states also have their own set of additional protected classes. They include marital status, student status, military status, age, source of income, sexual orientation, and creed.
4. Eviction Process
In rental housing, disagreements are often commonplace. That said, not every disagreement justifies an eviction. Every state is guided by a comprehensive landlord-tenant law that stipulates the duties and responsibilities of each party under the lease.
The law also states the circumstances under which the lease or rental agreement can be terminated. To evict a tenant, you need to have valid reasons such as:
- Lease violation
- Excessive property damage
- Criminal or drug-related activity
- Lease expiration
- Non-payment of rent
Evicting a tenant for any of these reasons is legally justified. What isn’t legally justified is evicting a tenant for retaliatory reasons. Good examples of retaliatory acts include increasing rent, or harassing or threatening a tenant.
If you evict a tenant for any of these reasons you are going against the Fair Housing Act regulations.
As a landlord, you reserve the right to choose whichever tenant you want for your property. The key, however, is ensuring that the process is free from discrimination. With a little bit of luck, this article has helped you in this regard.