Few things can affect your rental property experience like a lawsuit you can’t win. No one wants to look back and see that an omission on the lease or a step missed in the eviction process cost money. To prevent that from happening to you, it’s worth your time to become acquainted with federal, state, and local laws and the responsibilities they imply.
Federal Fair Housing Rules
Knowing about the laws in place to help ensure equal access to housing is essential for anyone wanting to be a landlord. The American Bar Association offers valuable insight and breaks the complicated regulations down into 10 separate topics that are useful for landlords. For example, many people don’t know that “steering” is illegal, even when you think you might be doing it for the right reasons. Placing a family in one part of a complex because you think they might be too noisy for another section that is also open to families is a good example of this. Other important factors covered include a legal definition of reasonable accommodation, record-keeping requirements, and the factors to consider in an eviction.
It is also important to understand that advertising has to operate within the parameters of fair housing laws, and phrases to avoid in the application process. While saying something like “great for a young couple” might seem innocuous, it could be seen as discriminatory to single parents, couples with children, and older applicants.
While federal law covers a lot of ground, more regulations are actually under the purview of the states. Of course, the rules can vary – sometimes vastly – from one state to another. You can find excellent resources for rules and regulations for the entire United States online. States have different guidelines for everything from security deposits to how much notice is required for evictions. Don’t be afraid to seek extra guidance and/or legal advice when you feel that you are even the least bit unsure about something.
It is also helpful for landlords to look at things from the other side of the tenant/landlord relationship. This PDF covering California law is lengthy, but it’s worth exploring in the interest of understanding renters’ mindsets. Look at the table of contents and peruse areas of interest.
It’s important to know if your specific locality has laws that go beyond what is covered by federal and local rules. For example, many people may not realize that LGBT applicants are not protected from discrimination by federal law or many state laws. More and more states are rectifying the situation so that discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited.
Another local concern every renter and landlord needs to be aware of comes with rent control laws. While the most well-known laws of this kind are probably those in New York City and San Francisco, more than a few smaller cities and towns have some level of rent control in place. There are plenty of rent control resources online, like this guide to rent control in New York, but it’s always best to check with local authorities to be sure you understand the laws correctly.
Landlords must take on the responsibility of learning as much as they can about laws and regulations governing the rental market. Information is your best tool when it comes to ensuring you are doing things correctly.
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