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Specialized Housing

How to Make Sure You’re Matching Up with the Fair Housing Laws

Specialized housing, which is intended to provide housing to a specific niche of the market, must also comply with the Fair Housing Act.

This law, which was enacted in 1968, prohibits discrimination in the housing market based on gender, race, nationality, familial status, and disability.

Because specialized housing, like student or senior housing, aims at a particular demographic by its very definition, complying with it can seem like a tricky proposition.

Here are some guidelines for landlords in, or entering, some of the most common specialized housing markets. Use them to make sure your properties always match up to fair housing laws.

Fair Housing Laws and Student Housing

While all types of discrimination are possible within student housing, it is the familial status aspect that is the most problematic.

Studies have shown that rentals listed as “student housing” have high rates of discrimination against families with children, especially in situations where student housing takes the form of dormitories or “by-the-bed rentals.”

For landlords who want to invest in the student housing specialized market, it is important to make sure that there is always an option for every segment of the population – a specific dorm room meant to accommodate a family is good idea to maintain and have available for those with kids.

Students with disabilities also present unique challenges to owners of student housing.

Often disabled people need customized access to the property – like wheelchair ramps – or have a particular need – like a guide dog for the blind – that can present conflict with other renters, especially in dormitory style situations.

Before building or investing in student housing, it’s a good idea to run through all the possible scenarios you may have to deal with later.

Fair Housing Laws and Senior Housing

Senior housing may seem like it is discriminatory by its very nature, and it is.

But an amendment to the Fair Housing Act called the Housing for Older Persons Act, signed into law in 1995, gives senior housing an exemption from the “familial status” restriction.

This means that housing designed to be a senior living community can discriminate against renters under 55 years of age, and still be in full compliance with the law.

Be aware that all other facets of fair housing still apply, and senior housing, in particular, should be ready to accommodate those with disabilities and other special needs.

Single Room Occupancy Units and Fair Housing Laws

Single Room Occupancy units (SROs) are another specialized housing niche that can seem confusing and contradictory to fair housing laws.

Because SRO units are designed to only house a single person, discrimination against families seems almost impossible to avoid.

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), SRO units do need to comply with all fair housing laws if they are used for permanent housing.

But because the majority of SRO units are used as temporary and short-term housing solutions they do not need to meet the same criteria as long term housing.

This means that SRO units that are used as shelters, particularly for the homeless, or as extended stay hotels only have to meet the same non-discrimination clauses as those used by the hospitality industry.

If the unit is intended for residence however, or if a formal rental contract or lease is signed, then the unit falls into a different category and is subject to the full letter of fair housing law.

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