What You Need to Know about the Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act was adopted in 1968 to ensure that landlords do not discriminate based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or handicap when renting properties. This means you cannot refuse to rent housing or set different terms (such as higher rent) based on these criteria. As a landlord, it’s important to understand how the Fair Housing Act applies to you.
Advertising the Right Way
In order to find tenants for your property, you'll most likely advertise in a variety of ways. While you want to make your rental property sound appealing, you'll need to avoid certain suggestive phrases that indicate a preference toward a specific type of renter. For example, avoid mentioning that your home is great for young couples, because that may be seen as discriminatory against families with children. When describing your property, it’s a good idea to stick to basic facts such as square footage, number of bedrooms, size of the yard, and other features that may be appealing to prospective tenants.
Showing Your Property
When showing your property to prospective tenants, be sure to give them a tour of the entire space without omitting any areas. Also, avoid emphasizing specific features. Alternatively, you can let your prospective tenants explore the property on their own without directing them. Refrain from talking about people in the community, as this could get you in legal trouble. For example, you shouldn’t say that it’s quiet because there are few children in the neighborhood.
Screening Your Tenants
A tenant application protects your real estate investment as well as the well-being of your tenants and their neighbors. That’s why the Fair Housing Act allows you to refuse someone who is a direct threat to the health or safety of others, or who currently uses illegal drugs.
As a landlord, you should have a policy detailing the necessary criteria for the application process. Your decision to rent to tenants will be based on their income, employment history, and credit. For example, you can require that your tenants’ gross income has to meet or exceed three times the rent payment. However, you cannot stipulate marriage as a necessary condition for renting to couples.
Setting the Rules
It’s okay to have apartment rules. In fact, if you want your tenants to take care of your property, having a written set of rules is a good idea. In order to comply with the Fair Housing Act, house rules should always apply to all residents. For example, you cannot forbid children to stay away from the apartment pool. However, you can require that children younger than 12 be supervised in the pool area.
Putting It All Together
Maintain records of everything, including tenant applications (even the ones that were rejected), house rules, incidents of house rule violations, etc. Additionally, you should display the Fair Housing logo or insert appropriate disclaimers in your advertising and tenant applications to inform potential tenants that you don’t discriminate and are aware of the Fair Housing Act, as well as its stipulations.
If you have to evict a tenant, notify him/her as required by your state laws. If you’re ever unsure about the finer points of the Fair Housing Act or are dealing with a fair housing claim, you should consider consulting an attorney.
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