Fair Housing Laws

Fair Housing Laws

Fair Housing Laws

Rental property management and fair housing laws go hand in hand. For landlords who may not have a professional property management company to help them, understanding fair housing laws can be confusing. Fair Housing laws protect people from discrimination in housing transactions. Moreover, those engaged in the housing business need to understand the ins and outs of the anti-discrimination laws. The reality is, California, is one of the most litigious states. As a result, people are sue happy in the Golden State. There is no getting around that fact. And speaking of facts, it is a fact that fair housing lawsuits continue to rise year over year.

What Is Fair Housing?

Fair housing laws make it illegal to discriminate against applicants for rental housing, tenants, or homebuyers in housing.

Why Should You Care About Fair Housing?

First, renting and managing your property the fair housing way is good business! Second, the law says you must rent and manage your property without discriminating. Third, if a tenant sues you for discrimination and the court rules against you, the impact can be devastating. In fact, you can end up paying a significant amount of money to  your tenant. As a result of being sued, your reputation could be damaged.

HUD The Enforcer:

  • Fair Housing Testers: HUD hires people to pose as renters
    • To ensure no landlord is violating fair housing laws
    • As a landlord, you should always be careful
    • What you say in person, on the phone and in rental ads is important
  • Investigate Discrimination Claims:
    • Under the Fair Housing Act
    • Anyone can file a discrimination claim with HUD
    • HUD will investigate the claim
    • And determine if there is any merit to it
    • To decide if further legal action is necessary

Assume everyone works for HUD. Be careful what you say in person, on the phone, and in your rental ads

This Article Is Not Intended To Provide Legal Advice

This Article And Its Contents Are For Informational Purposes ONLY

**This article is not a substitute for a lawyer’s evaluation of any specific fair housing problem you may have, and it is not intended to provide legal advice. Therefore specific examples we give are merely illustrations to help you understand how the law works. Please note that the examples may or may not be the way the law would apply to your specific situation. What we hope is that you will gain a better understanding of fair housing laws and how they work. Also note, the examples/illustrations provided in this article are only a few of the fair housing laws. For any issues or questions pertaining to fair housing laws please consult with a qualified attorney. A qualified attorney should be your only source for legal questions you have relating to the subject matter.**

Fair Housing Violations

In California fair housing lawsuits continue to rise year over year. For example, in 2016 alone the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing reported 23,510 complaints against landlords for fair housing violations. And disability was one of the most cited housing discrimination claims in 2016. Housing discrimination happens when someone is treated differently because of a special trait that is protected by the law. For example, it is illegal not to rent to someone because he or she is disabled. The law calls disability a special trait “protected categories.”

Both federal and California Law Protect – Protected Categories (Special Traits) 
  • Race
  • Color
  • National Origin
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Familial Status
  • Disability
California Law Protects – Additional Protected (Groups) 
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Gender Identity & Expression
  • Source Of Income
  • Marital Status
  • Age
  • Arbitrary Characteristics
    • Example: Refusing to rent to someone because he or she is gay
Fair Housing Laws

Examples Of Illegal Housing Discrimination Include:

  • Not letting children play outside
    • Or having rules that unreasonably limit where children play
  • Refusing to allow a tenant who uses a wheelchair or a walker to have a closer parking spot
    • When one is available and the tenant asks for one
  • Putting tenants of one race or national origin in a particular area of your property
  • Refusing to rent to an applicant because he or she relies upon disability income to pay rent

Discrimination is illegal during any part of the rental process. From what is said in your rental ads, to choosing your applicants, discrimination is illegal. With this in mind, we offer you some insight on rental property advertising.

What You Can and What You Cannot Ask Your Tenants

At this point, you may be wondering what you can say in a rental ad. You can ask that tenants make a certain amount of income. Additionally, you can prefer that potential tenants have good credit, and do not have a criminal background. However, at no time can you say you prefer a certain group of people in your rental ads. And, be cautious about limiting the number of people you allow to live in your rental property. As an example, a rental ad should not specify the maximum amount of people who can live in an apartment. Consequently, an ad like this may be discrimination against families with children. So, be careful! 

Examples of Discriminatory Statements in Rental Ads:

  • Proof of two years of steady employment required
  • Not ideal for children
  • Not accessible for the disabled
  • Young professionals only

The Good News

The good news is most complaints are avoidable. Landlords should choose applicants based on whether they are likely to be good tenants. Moreover, do not base a decision on an assumption. The best practice is to base decisions on neutral, individualized facts such as credit reports and past rental history, not stereotypes and assumptions. The best protection a landlord can have is a property management company. To help protect you and your investment hire a property management company. A property management company provides a buffer against the personal financial liability surrounding fair housing laws, landlord-tenant regulations, and eviction procedures.

Making Sure You Do Not Violate The Fair Housing Act

Be careful what you say in person, on the phone and in your rental ads. You must adhere to the terms of the Fair Housing Act, but you can rule out tenants based on other criteria. It is legal to deny a tenant based on poor credit, inability to pay rent or other information found when you run a credit check. Be consistent in screening tenants. Go through the exact same practices for each prospective tenant who applies to rent your property. Require the same information, documents, referrals, and fees. Treat everyone with respect and dignity no matter what!

Monthly Management Service

When In Doubt

Of the most strategic ways to protect yourself against fair housing claims is having a professional property management company manage your rentals. Whether you are interested in changing property managers, or simply looking to hire a property management company for the first time, Rancho Mesa Properties can help. We take care of all types of residential rental properties including homes, condos, multiplexes such as duplex and triplexes, and even small apartment buildings. Let us manage your rental properties, so you can enjoy your life!  Call us today at (858) 576-2176. We will save you time, money, and the stress that comes along with managing your own rentals.