Tips to Avoid Fair Housing Act Violations: The Ultimate Guide for Tenants

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 ensures equality for all persons applying for housing. It aims to prevent discriminatory practices against protected classes of people. Race, religion, national origin, sex, familial status and disability are protected classes under the FHA. Many states in the U.S. have added to these protected classes. 

Marketing strategy should be inclusive of everyone

Every landlord needs to advertise a property to acquire a new tenant. What they may not realize is that they can be guilty of discrimination in their advertising. An example of discrimination in marketing would be to place an advertisement stating “Christian home for rent” or asking for “English-speaking applicants” to respond. 

Evernest, Keyrenter and APM are the top property management companies in Chattanooga that are fully aware of the implications of discrimination in housing. It makes sure all marketing of properties is carried out in a non-discriminatory way. Screening of tenants and other activities involved in managing properties are also done in accordance with federal, state and local laws. 

Ensure all tenants are treated alike and in a fair manner

Landlords are entitled to lease to tenants who commit to all the terms of their lease agreements, such as paying their rent on time. They can have expectations of all tenants that are completely fair and apply to everyone. For example, they expect tenants to take care of their properties and not cause problems with the neighbors. Landlords can select tenants for valid business reasons, but they must have the same reasons for all tenants. 

Landlords cannot treat tenants differently based on a different race, color, national origin etc. For example, a landlord guilty of race discrimination may give false information about availability or expect a higher security deposit from a tenant of another race. An unstated goal of requiring only two people to rent a two-bedroom apartment may exclude families. 

Avoid discrimination against tenants with a criminal record

Federal law does not prohibit criminal screening, but this means that formerly incarcerated individuals who have paid their debt to society may still be excluded from the housing. 

In 2022, HUD issued a memo that recommends landlords don’t use criminal history to screen tenants for housing. Its guidance prohibits blanket bans on anyone with a criminal record and conducting background checks inconsistently. Landlords shouldn’t perform checks on some people and not others based on stereotypes. They can legally deny tenants housing if a recent criminal record shows the person is dangerous to others, but this must be based on reliable, documented evidence. 

Set clear expectations with grounds for application denial

Landlords need to set objective criteria before they even think about hiring tenants. The tenant screening process is an area where landlords are often accused of discrimination. If they adopt and apply objective, uniform criteria to evaluate prospective tenants and their creditworthiness, they are less likely to be accused of discrimination. 

Landlords have the right and responsibility to find out if prospective tenants have enough verifiable income to be able to pay the rent. If they do not, it is fair for them to deny an application. If a credit report reveals an inability to handle debt, this could be a valid reason to deny an application. Denying an application to a single mother who has a good income and credit record is discrimination. 

Avoid discrimination based on income sources

Housing subsidies and vouchers can guarantee consistent rental income, and landlords do not have the same risk associated with depending on a tenant’s ability to maintain a steady income to pay rent. A growing number of states have the source of income protection laws. This prohibits discrimination based on income sources. There are a number of landlords that still refuse to accept vouchers, but more voucher non-discrimination laws are likely to be passed. 

Avoid all bias against a particular class 

Discrimination in housing still happens despite the laws that prohibit it. Some examples of housing discrimination involve refusing to show immigrant applicants houses in certain areas or charging higher fees to tenants with children. Some landlords may be biased against people with disabilities or those of a particular religion. Racial discrimination is still a serious problem in many places in the U.S. 

Landlords may discriminate in very subtle ways that are hard to prove. Some may not even have the explicit intent to discriminate, but it happens because of their implicit bias. This makes it hard for a cycle of discrimination and lack of opportunity to end. 

Conclusion

Federal, state and local laws may make it illegal for landlords to discriminate in housing on the basis of certain group characteristics. It can be hard to prove discrimination when it comes in more subtle forms. Landlords need to make sure they treat all protected classes equally. If they don’t do so, they may end up facing lawsuits and other consequences.

Adam Hansen