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Understanding the Fair Housing Act (US)

In a nutshell, the Fair Housing Act provides a framework for preventing discrimination when renting or selling housing.  As a landlord, it is especially important that you are aware of the law and its implications. Here's what every landlord needs to know:

US Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968

Coming out of the Civil Rights Act, the law prohibits housing discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, or sex. Congress expanded the law by passing Amendments in 1988, prohibiting discrimination based on family status (such as children under 18 or pregnant women) or disability as well.

Landlords cannot do any of the following when renting or selling houses or apartments:

  • create different terms or conditions of the lease based on any of the above (race, religion, nationality, sex, family status, disability)
  • deny housing /make housing unavailable (lie about availability)
  • provide different amenities or accommodations to different groups
  • create different terms or additional fees/interest rates
  • refuse to screen/consider applicants/refuse to rent/negotiate
  • indicate a preference for a tenant based on any of the above when advertising a property or discussing property with prospective tenants
  • interfering with or threatening someone who has fair housing rights

There are other stipulations, please note that the above is a guide only. For full obligations for landlords, property managers, and housing financiers, please visit the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) page.

How is the FHA enforced?

The Department of Housing and Urban Development enforces the regulations by using fair housing testers (like secret shoppers) who pose as prospective renters/property buyers to see if the landlords they interact with are using discriminatory practices. If someone believes a landlord has violated their fair housing rights, they can file a discrimination complaint - which then HUD will investigate to decide if legal action will be taken.

Adopt Best Practices

Practical tips to avoid any complaints or inadvertently violate the FHA:

  1. Screen all prospective tenants/buyers the exact same way - be consistent
  2. Apply the same qualifying standards across the board; no short-cuts or cutting corners "because you like them"
  3. Follow the exact same practice, same application form, same interview questions 
  4. Require the exact same documents, fees, references/referrals from all of your prospective renters/buyers

There of course are ways you can still rule out prospective tenants without violating the FHA. You can legally deny a renter housing based on:

  • inability to pay rent
  • poor credit
  • other info you find when running a credit check

If an applicant is rejected based on information found on a credit report, the landlord must provide an Adverse Action Notice to the applicant. An adverse action can be simply denying the application - OR - you can chose to require a co-signer on the lease, - OR - require a deposit. These requirements should all be made in writing to the applicant.

Remember - you are also legally required to destroy sensitive information (Credit Check/Consumer Report) that you've collected on past applicants!  If you already use Naborly, no need to worry.  If you don't use Naborly (or still have past applications on your computer) please do some due diligence and purge that sensitive data!

Sources:

https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/fair_housing_act_overview

https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/online-complaint

https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/using-consumer-reports-what-landlords-need-know

https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/disposing-consumer-report-information-rule-tells-how

 

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