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Fair Housing Laws for Landlords: The Nightmare That is Discrimination

If you’re a landlord considering selling or renting your investment property, the topic of fair housing should be at the top of your list to understand. Violating fair housing laws and discriminating during the rental or sale process (whether knowingly or unknowingly) will greatly impact your reputation. Plus you stand to lose a lot of money if you are sued, lose tenants, or your property sits vacant.

The Fair Housing Act (FHA), first established in 1968, greatly expanded and improved upon the protections put in place for buyers and renters. The FHA was then expanded several times since, and is now a key element to consider when selling or renting your property.

So, let’s dive into the details.

What is the Fair Housing Act?

The Fair Housing Act is U.S. federal law put in place to protect renters and buyers from discrimination in the sale, rental, financing, or advertising of housing. When it was first established in 1968, the act prohibited discrimination based on race, religion, and nation origin. It was expanded upon in 1974 to include gender and again in 1988 to include protections for those with disabilities and families with children.

To summarize, the FHA now prohibits discrimination based on:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Nationality
  • Sex
  • Disability status
  • Familial status

Who enforces fair housing laws?

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is responsible for enforcing the FHA alongside the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) which investigates all complaints filed with HUD. State and local governments are also key enforcers, as each jurisdiction can add additional laws to the FHA that apply to their states, cities, and counties.

What types of properties are covered under the FHA?

All housing situations are covered under the FHA, except for a few specific scenarios:

  • Owner-occupied properties with <four units
  • Single-family homes sold or rented without the use of a broker
  • Housing operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members

You’ll want to double-check your local laws, rules, and regulations for more specific information.

Examples of housing discrimination

Discrimination can present in many forms, some more obvious than others. That’s why it’s important that you, as a landlord, understand fair housing laws in detail.

Overall, you must not engage in any of the following discriminatory practices based on any of the protected classes outlined above:

  • Refuse to rent or sell housing;
  • Refuse to negotiate for housing;
  • Make housing unavailable;
  • Deny a dwelling;
  • Set different terms, conditions, or privileges for sale or rental of a dwelling;
  • Provide different housing services or facilities;
  • Falsely deny that housing is available for inspection, sale, or rental;
  • For-profit, persuade owners to sell or rent (blockbusting); or
  • Deny anyone access to or membership in a facility or service (such as a multiple
  • listing service) related to the sale or rental of housing.

These practices commonly present in the following ways:

Age Discrimination

Landlords may not refuse a tenant or buyer for being too old or young and they cannot specify an age bracket in any listing for the property.

Gender Discrimination

Unless you are renting a room in an owner-occupied property, you may not specify a preferred gender for tenants.

Disability Discrimination

Properties that are not fit to accommodate disabled individuals may need to make amendments to better serve tenants or allow them to make modifications to the property to make it possible for them to live there. There are exceptions to this and it depends on the situation but it is a very important consideration for landlords to understand in detail.

Racial Discrimination

You cannot communicate a preference for certain ethnicities and all applicants must be treated equally throughout the process of listing and occupying the property.

Discrimination in Advertising

When marketing a property for rent or sale it is important to understand the ways discrimination crops up. Be careful to avoid any phrases that refer to gender, ethnicity, or religion. Be careful not to express preferences that you have for a tenant. Rather, illustrate the selling points of your property. For example, you cannot say that a property is suitable for a family or a child-free couple.

These phrases can be subtle but are considered discriminatory so we recommend including only the simple, straightforward facts when listing your property for sale or rent.

How to Avoid Discrimination When Listing Your Property

Fair Housing Laws for Landlords

The best way to avoid discrimination is to create a standardized application and screening process that is used for every candidate across the board. When creating the process, be sure to cross check it with federal, state, and local guidelines to ensure it is in compliance at all levels.

One of the best ways to ensure you avoid discriminatory practices is to hire a property management company like Evernest. Professional property managers are well-versed in fair housing laws and discrimination guidelines. A local company will also know the rules and regulations in your state, city, and county like the back of their hand.

Basically, a great property management company will protect you and your rental property at all turns.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Evernest can help you rent your property, find our team in your area and reach out to get started!


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