Fair housing laws protect tenants and applicants from unfair and discriminatory practices when it comes to renting a home. In our experience, most landlords don’t discriminate intentionally. However, it’s very easy to make a mistake, and those mistakes are often costly.
Pay attention to your marketing, screening, and leasing policies so you don’t get into trouble. Everything must be consistent and well-documented. If you don’t understand the fair housing laws, be sure to educate yourself or reach out to a property management professional for help.
Federal Fair Housing Act
Fair housing laws start with the federal Fair Housing Act, which was initially passed in 1968, but has undergone many updates and changes. It prohibits landlords from making housing decisions based on:
- National origin
- Familial status
While it may seem like this is pretty straightforward, you could make mistakes without realizing it. For example, if you advertise your one-bedroom loft condo as being “great for a single professional,” you have inadvertently discriminated against families or tenants with children. If your marketing materials list your rental home as “close to churches,” you could be seen as preferring tenants of one religion. These would be valid fair housing complaints.
Documenting Your Screening Process
It’s important that you let your prospective tenants know what you’ll be looking for before they apply for your property. We recommend you put this in writing and provide it to every applicant before they complete your rental application and pay the application fee. Your criteria might include a specific credit score, a lack of prior evictions, minimum income threshold, and a positive rental history. When you have a documented record of how you screen applicants, you won’t be accused of making decisions based on protected criteria. This is important for our own peace of mind and it also ensures you screen each applicant fairly and consistently.
Service and Support Animals
People with disabilities have protections under the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. As a landlord, you are legally required to make accommodations for people who have physical and intellectual disabilities. Sometimes, this simply means providing a closer parking spot if you have a multi-family building, or installing a wheelchair ramp to your door. Lately, however, most of the conflict and the action have been in the area of service animals and emotional support animals.
Service animals are trained to provide a service for individuals who have a disability. The most obvious is a service dog that helps someone who cannot see. Emotional support animals or comfort animals are less easy to spot. They can be any type of animal and their role is to provide support and companionship for people with emotional or mental disabilities.
You must allow qualified tenants to live in your property with service or support animals even if you don’t allow pets. The law does not see these animals as pets. Therefore, you cannot deny them, you cannot charge a pet deposit or a pet rent, and you cannot restrict dog breeds or sizes.
Fair housing can be complicated, and if you need help understanding the law, please contact us at Rentals By Mark. Our team makes a point of protecting our owners from fair housing claims, and we spend a lot of time staying up to date on the laws.