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5 Things Landlords Must Know About Fair Housing

5 Fair Housing Mistakes

If you’re investing in income property for the long term, you’re going to be wearing a lot of hats: investor, entrepreneur – and landlord. Getting just the right renters is key to the health of your investment – but the steps you take to find and keep those tenants have to comply with the Fair Housing Act. And because the Act prohibits a wide range of discriminatory actions both obvious and subtle, landlords may find themselves in legal trouble without realizing how thy got there.

The Fair Housing Act is an outgrowth of the sweeping civil rights legislation of the 1960s. It was originally intended to promote equal housing to all without regard to race. But a variety of amendments to the Act have added not just many more protected categories, but also numerous subcategories and situations that can trap unwary landlords who aren’t familiar with all aspects of the law.

What’s the Fair Housing Act?

The Fair Housing Act says simply that in housing made available to the public, landlords can’t discriminate against applicants on the basis of
Race
Religion
National Origin
Family Status
Age
Sexual Orientation
Disability
Mental or Emotional Impairment

That covers all aspects of the rental process, from advertising and showing a property, to selecting a tenant – and even beyond. And while some no-nos are obvious, such as asking a prospective tenant if they’re gay or Muslim,Golf Wholesale for example, others aren’t – and even the most well intentioned landlord may end up on the wrong end of a discrimination complaint.

Some Rentals Are Exempt

It’s important to note, though, that some kinds of rental housing are exempt from Fair Housing provisions. Remember that the law applies to housing made available to the public. If you’re not advertising your rental publicly, wholesale golf clubs or not using a real estate broker, you can rent to whomever you like – as long as you don’t own more than three properties at a time.

Likewise, you’re exempt if your property is owner occupied and has four or fewer rental units, such as a small multiplex with one unit occupied by the landlord. And if you ‘re a religious organization or other group dedicated to serving a particular segment of the ping g30 population, you’re allowed to limit occupancy to members of that group – a Christian ministry that operates transitional housing for members from its faith community, for example.

Senior citizen communities are also exempt from age discrimination laws, and can set their own age restrictions. Some senior housing restricts access to only those 62 and older, while others, such as “55 plus” communities, require at least one person in the household to be older than 55.

Landlords also have some leeway when choosing to rent to two strictly defined groups: former alcoholics and drug users. Those in recovery or with prior convictions can’t be denied housing on that basis alone, and landlords can’t mandate drug testing or proof of continued sobriety – unless the housing they offer is part of a rehabilitation ping g30 driver program, such as a halfway house for recovering drug abusers. But it is legal to reject an applicant in either of these groups on the basis of ancillary issues such as bad credit or poor references. Likewise, you’re protected if a tenant has to be evicted because of drug or alcohol related violations on the premises.

Those considerations aside, though, renting to the public at large does require scrupulous observance of the Fair Housing Act – and that can take some attention and awareness, especially in these key areas:

Advertising

Of course you wouldn’t post an ad for your rental that says only those of a certain race or age can apply. But language meant to make the rental seem enticing can also subtly discriminate.

An ad that emphasizes the rental’s proximity to a senior center could raise the specter of age discrimination. Or a notice that emphasizes the number of churches close by or extols the virtues of a Christian community could be read as discriminating against those of other faiths. Offering rental discounts to particular groups is another common way to violate the FHA in advertising.

Showing Properties

A little recognized way that landlords might unwittingly discriminate involves a practice called “steering,” in which a prospective tenant is directed either toward or away from certain features of the property. An applicant with disabilities might not be shown the recreational facilities, for example – because the landlord or manager mistakenly assumes that he or she won’t be using them. Likewise, you can’t brush off an applicant’s request to see aspects of the property – such as showing a senior applicant only a ground floor unit, when they’re more interested in a second story place.

Lease Provisions

It’s illegal to place unreasonable restrictions into a lease or rental agreement, too. You may want to implement a no-pets policy for the sake of carpets and furniture, and that’s legal. But you can’t prohibit assistive animals under that policy, which could effectively deny use of the property to a disabled person.

It’s also legal to establish a cap on occupancy of your property, but it can’t be set unreasonably low – a subtle bit of discrimination against occupants who might be from cultures with large extended families.

Establishing minimum income and credit requirements for a property is entirely legal, and up to you – and the only criteria that count. But it’s illegal to use those things to weed out protected classes – such as by establishing one set of standards for desirable applicants and another for tenants you’d rather not rent to.

Property Maintenance

Landlords are required by law to keep rental properties in a safe and habitable condition and to make them accessible to people with disabilities. But subtle discrimination can creep into this area as well. Properties occupied by families with children might not get the same cosmetic upgrades as others, for example, or a requested modification for a disabled tenant might be ignored.

Fair housing laws are meant to protect tenants – and landlords too. As JWholesale Golfsays, education is the key to staying in control of your investments. Knowing the law and staying aware of problem areas lets you the landlord find and keep the tenants you want – while being fair and equitable to everyone.  (Top image:Flickr/DanielMoyle)

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