When it comes to screening prospective tenants, landlords usually want to ensure they are renting to a good tenant who will respect their property. However, landlords need to understand that there are certain rules under the Fair Housing Act that if you violate, you could end up in legal trouble. Often, a landlord will not intentionally violate the act, but if they get caught doing so, they could end up in a lawsuit, losing both money and their reputation. In this guide, we will take a look at the Fair Housing Act so you can avoid unintentionally violating it.
What is the Fair Housing Act?
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was put into place to ensure that landlords and real estate professionals were practicing fair housing in the United States; the Act was amended in 1988. It protects people from discrimination in both house buying and renting, making housing available to everyone, regardless of their race, sex, religion, disability, nationality, or familial status. If you are found to be in violation of the Fair Housing Act, a prospective tenant can take legal action against you.
Fair Housing Act Violation Examples
You may intentionally or unintentionally violate the Fair Housing Act, so these examples can give you a better idea of what is considered a violation.
Denying housing to a protected class.
While landlords often do not like renting to people with pets, a landlord cannot refuse to rent to someone who has a service animal or an emotional support animal; refusing to rent in these circumstances is a violation of the Act.
Changing the terms and conditions of a rental.
You may have had a bad experience renting to a family with children but refusing to rent to one or only allowing families with children to rent from certain buildings in a complex is a direct violation.
Making the home unavailable or claiming it is unavailable.
A person in a protected class responds to an ad for a home for rent, and the landlord lies to them, claiming it is already rented. The landlord then turns around and rents the apartment to someone not in the protected class. To use the children example again, you may prefer renting to tenants without kids, but making an apartment suddenly unavailable to tenants with children, then renting to someone without kids, is a violation of the act.
When you reject a tenant, make sure you are not doing so for a reason that is protected under the Fair Housing Act. Most of the time, tenants get rejected based on their credit history, a bad reference from a previous landlord (paid rent late, left the house trashed, etc.), they do not have a sufficient income, or something else that comes up in their credit or rental history. Stay consistent in your screening process and be transparent about it. Word your ads carefully to ensure they do not sound discriminatory. Make sure you accommodate the needs of your disabled tenants as much as you can.