Federal and state fair housing laws were put in place to create a hospital and fair housing experience for all tenants. In essence, these laws prohibit discrimination based on several identified classes.
As a landlord in Northwest Georgia, it is very important what these laws imply when it comes to your tenant screening process.
It might seem obvious, but many landlords still find themselves involved in discrimination lawsuits. In most cases, it’s due to a careless mistake when it came to understanding the implications of these landlord-tenant laws.
A 2011 example tells how a property-owner lost in court for refusing to rent to a single mother with a young son because they supposed no man would be there to shovel the snow during the winter. The Fair Housing law defines this and many other instances, as discrimination even if the landlord believed they were acting in the candidate’s best interest.
Before becoming a property owner, it is sensible to acquaint yourself with the compulsory landlord-tenant laws such as the Fair Housing Act. Although investing in real estate can be rewarding, without a full understanding of the law, these slipups can be very costly.
What is the Fair Housing Act?
The 1968 Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on seven protected classes.
As amended in 1988, these classes are family status, national origin, race, color, disability, sex, and religion.
Who enforces the Fair Housing Act?
The department that enforces the Fair Housing Act is the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and it is applied in two ways.
First, HUD hires people to pose as applicants to test for any discriminatory practices. As a landlord, what you say in person, on the phone, and in your rental ads has consequences.
Second, they investigate discrimination claims from individuals who feel their housing rights have been violated. HUD will determine if there are grounds for legal action.
The first step in finding tenants is marketing your property. Regrettably, due to unfamiliarity with the law, some landlords include biased statements.
What announcements are considered discriminatory?
The following are examples of advertisements that are prejudiced as per the Fair Housing Act:
- “Females preferred”
- “No young men”
- “No Muslims” or “Christians only”
- “Great for mature individual or couple”
- “Perfect for a female student”
- “Suitable for single professional”
- “Ideal for a quiet couple”
- “No Blacks or Asians” or “Whites only”
- “Quiet and mature neighborhood, perfect for a couple or small family”
These are statements to avoid including on your rental ad. Even a seemingly innocent sentence such as “Great for families” is not advocated.
When writing a rental ad, the principle of The Fair Housing Act is that no one can be discriminated against based on their demographic. Focus more on describing the property rather than your ideal tenant. If unsure, seek the services of someone who has experience or hire a skilled real estate agent.
While time-consuming, tenant screening is a process no landlord can afford to forego. It’s the only way to minimize renting to the wrong tenants and doing it the correct way is the key.
For most, the screening process begins when they make contact with the potential tenant(s). The point of contact could either be a phone call, an email, or even in the course of showing the property.
It is during this point of contact that most landlords unintentionally make discriminatory statements. For them, it may just be small talk. Examples of these dialogs may include:
- “How many children do you have?” – this is an illicit request because familial status is a protected class. Instead, you can ask how many occupants there will be.
- “Are you Korean or Chinese?” – questions about race are discriminatory. The applicant’s country of origin should not be used as a qualifying standard.
- “Is that a service dog?” – the applicant may think you are discriminating against disabled people. Even if you have a “no pet” rule, service animals are exempted from this policy.
- “Would you like directions to the nearest church?” – this could make the applicant assume you only rent to Christians.
Asking respectable questions is the best workaround and certain inquiries should be off-limits, such as probing about their religion, race or arrest records.
Ignorance of the law isn’t an excuse and certainly can’t be used as a defense in court. If you are unfamiliar with the law, it’s best to seek professional advice. Not only will this damage your reputation but lawsuits are costly and time-consuming.
Tips for avoiding discrimination accusations
As a landlord, it is in your best interest to remain compliant with the Fair Housing Act. Always presume that each tenant you interview works for HUD or might accuse you of discrimination. Be thoughtful of what you say in person, on the phone, and in your rental ads.
By adhering to the Fair Housing Act does not mean you have to accept all tenants. You can rule them out based on criteria such as poor credit, inability to pay rent, or other information that is unsatisfactory when you do a credit check on them.
When screening renters, it’s important to be consistent and have the same qualifying standards for each and every person. This means that you go through the same process when screening and renting, and require the same information, documents, referrals, and fees.
It goes without saying that you should treat everyone with respect and dignity. Fair housing is the right for all people to have safe, decent abodes and be able to get it without discrimination. Consequently, as a landlord in Northwest Georgia, you shouldn’t discriminate against occupants or prospective residents based on ethnicity, disability, familial status, religion, gender, or race. The key to being a successful landlord is the equal and fair treatment of tenants.