An understanding of fair housing laws and principles is essential to success as a landlord. Putting this knowledge into practice ensures that all applicants and tenants are treated fairly and reduces the chances of a fair housing related law suit.
Here are eight of the most essential fair housing laws and standards landlords should put into practice:
1. Marketing Language
There are certain guidelines related to language that should be followed in all advertising. Most importantly, landlords should never use wording that could be considered discriminatory. For example, it is illegal to say that children are not allowed. Obviously, excluding any ethnic group is also illegal. Landlords may not discriminate based upon race, religion, gender, national origin, familial status or disability.
2. Clear Criteria
Landlords should create a written policy that details all of their criteria for persons chosen to be tenants. Areas such as an outline of the application process, specific rental criteria (income, employment history, minimum credit standards, etc.) occupancy guidelines, availability policy, etc. should all be included. The application shouldn’t ask about disabilities or lifestyle choices.
3. Allowable Occupancy Standards
When determining how many people are allowed to live in a unit, a general rule of two persons per bedroom is the norm. However, a small infant can be allowed to live in a one-bedroom rental with two parents. Exceptionally large bedrooms or spaces could hold more people. State standards should be followed.
4. Treat All Applicants Equally
Each applicant should have the same opportunity to rent a property. No one should be given preferential treatment or be excluded from a portion of the screening process.
5. Fair Housing Rules Are Acceptable
While the screening process should be strictly non-discriminatory, it is acceptable for landlords to have fair guidelines for tenants living in a rental property, such as “no running in the hallways,” etc. Keep rules as unbiased as possible. Don’t single out or favor certain groups over others – not even children. In addition to the Fair Housing Act, check specific local and state laws.
6. Accommodating Disabilities
Residents with disabilities have fair housing rights and may make a reasonable accommodation or modification request, and landlords must comply. However, the request must not place an undue burden on the landlord. Landlords should never offer accommodations before they are requested, as this could be considered discriminatory. If a request is denied, the landlord must send the tenant a written denial letter.
7. Keep Good Records
Keeping accurate, comprehensive records allows landlords to have a history of interactions with applicants and tenants. This greatly increases a fair outcome should the landlord get sued for any reason. Keep consistent records that demonstrate nondiscriminatory behavior in case a Fair Housing claim is ever filed.
8. Use Fair Eviction Standards
If a tenant refuses to pay rent or violates key policies set forth by the landlord, eviction may be the best action to take. However, the violation should be serious enough to warrant this action and fall in line with other eviction reasons/standards for the state. Landlords should issue and keep records of warning letters, written complaints by third parties, logs, police records, photographs and eviction notices.
A knowledge of fair housing standards is essential to avoiding legal issues. Landlords should become proficient in these eight areas. A professional tenant screening service can assist with conducting all background checks in compliance with state and federal laws.