Fair housing laws are the most important legislation for landlords to know. Without laws like the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), tenants would have no protection against inequality and discrimination in housing. Yet as simple as it sounds, complying with fair housing laws requires your deliberate thought and care.
This is because fair housing policies apply in many aspects of your rental business: tenant screening, rental applications, showings, and property rules. Complying with these lawyers isn’t a one-step process—rather, it’s a continuous commitment to providing equal opportunity.
For these reasons, it’s a good idea to review your rental materials and practices with a legal expert.
Here are six practical tips for complying with fair housing laws.
1. Have set standards and minimums.
Before you ever begin screening, you should already know what standards you’ll hold for your tenants. For example, have set numbers in mind for income, credit scores, and rental history. These numbers will make the screening process more efficient as it will be easier to identify disqualifications.
Don’t forget to document your standards. A tenant scoring system is a great way to do this. Tenant scoring systems are weighted point systems for calculating tenants’ eligibility. You assign points and weights based on your individual values.
Save a document with either your formal tenant scoring system or a list of principles and minimums for tenants. This practice is not only practical and time-saving, but it also protects you legally should you ever face a discrimination lawsuit.
2. Screen your tenants the same way, every time.
Establishing your standards is a great first step, but you also need to enforce them the same way for every tenant. For example, it’s not acceptable to only call prior employers for tenants you suspect may not have stable incomes. If you’re going to contact references, you must do so for every tenant.
This is especially important when it comes to social networks. If you use them for tenant screening purposes, remember that you must use the same platforms (Twitter, Instagram, etc.) in the same ways for each applicant.
3. Never steer tenants toward/away from units.
This tip applies to showings. Whenever you give tours of your properties, be sure to make the renter aware of all available units for rent. Neglecting to show a unit could be considered discriminatory.
Likewise, never steer tenants toward or away from any particular units. The FHA specifically prohibits this practice as a response to racist housing practices before the Civil Rights Movement. Many black tenants in the 50s and 60s were steered away from predominately white housing to reinforce segregation. Thankfully, the federal government has since illegalized this practice. If a unit is available for rent, you must show it to all interested renters.
4. Don’t encourage or discourage any unit.
This tip falls along the same lines as the previous one. If you think a unit would be a good option for a tenant due to features like sizing or amenities, certainly mention it. However, if a tenant is interested in a unit, do nothing to deter or discourage them.
Such practices could result in a discrimination lawsuit if it can be proven that you tried to influence a renter toward a particular unit on account of their race, gender, disability, or membership in another protected class.
All available units should be equally available to all your applicants.
5. Use caution on social media.
As mentioned above, use caution when using social media to screen or keep tabs on tenants. Some landlords see social media as a convenient opportunity to be friendly with tenants as well as keep an eye on how tenants are treating their properties.
If you use social media for this purpose, be mindful of privacy concerns. Remember, you can’t require a tenant to add you as a friend, nor can you ask a tenant to make their account visible to you.
6. Be careful with language.
Finally, use extra care forming the language you use in your ads and rental applications. Even unintentional bias can emerge in language.
To avoid a fair housing lawsuit, never mention or ask renters about any of the seven classes protected by the FHA: race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability.
Ensure Equality in Your Rental Business
In the end, fair housing should not be challenging to navigate. If you are attentive and intentional about equality, you should have no problem complying with fair housing laws. With these few tips, you are already well prepared to realize equality in your business.
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