You are a good person and treat everyone fairly. Therefore, you don’t need to worry about breaking Federal Fair Housing laws. Right?? Maybe, but you will be surprised how a decision or policy can unintentionally affect a protected group of people in a negative way.
Federal Fair Housing prohibits discrimination based on: race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. You should also be aware as to whether or not your state has some additional protected groups. This law seems pretty straight forward and I believe that, for the most part, people do not want to unfairly discriminate. However, let me give you some examples of where you can unintentionally get yourself into trouble.
Example #1: A tenant is late with their rent. Their ecclesiastical leader calls and offers to pay their rent but not the late fees and asks if you‘ll waive them. This can really pull at your heart strings and you might want to say yes. However, consider how this could be perceived. You would be making exceptions for people of a certain religion. Now imagine how much worse it looks if they also happen to belong to the same religion that you do. Then you would be making special exceptions for people that worship the same as you. Ouch – Not a good idea.
Example #2: If you have a listing that says “No animals allowed, no exceptions” you may be discriminating against those with a disability that need a service animal or emotional support animal. It is important to be aware and distinguish between pets and service animals.
Example #3: You receive a text message regarding a vacancy that is written in Spanish, but unfortunately, you don’t know Spanish. You write back and explain that you only speak English, so you can only rent to those that speak English. Your response may only reflect your concerns regarding the logistics of communication, and your ability to provide good service, but that text just discriminated against the national origins of some people.
Example #4: When working to fill a vacancy, people will often collect several applications and then carefully look through them to pick the one they like best. This might seem like a good idea, but the problem with this practice is that it can create a lot of variations in your approval process. This lack of consistency can lead to a strong argument for discrimination against a protected group. It’s best to screen applications in the order they come in. Based on your written criteria, they are either approved and given a chance to sign up or they are denied and you move on to the next one. This will make you much more consistent rather than picking and choosing your “favorite”.
Example #5: You rent out individual rooms in your townhome to college age single women. One of the tenants is moving out, so you advertise Women’s Contract Available. Fair Housing laws say this would be discrimination based on sex.
The best course of action you can take is to:
1) Be aware of the laws and choose your words and policies carefully to avoid unintended discrimination of protected groups. You should consult an attorney or hire a competent property manager.
2) Keep it simple. Always stick to the lease no matter who the person is or their circumstance.
3) You should have your policies written down and follow them to make sure everyone is treated the same.
Keeping these things in mind, my tenant screening criteria centers around three main questions that I want to answer:
1) Are they likely to pay the rent on time?
2) Are they likely to take proper care of the property?
3) Is it likely they will be good to work with?
To learn how I answer these questions fairly and without discrimination, you can see our other videos shared in the description below. If applicants will meet those standards, and I apply those same standards to all people, then whether they are in a protected group or not won’t be a concern.
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