The Federal Fair Housing Act was signed into law on April 11, 1968, just days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
On that day, President Lyndon B. Johnson stated, “Now, with this bill, the voice of justice speaks again. It declares that equal housing for all is now part and parcel of the American way of life.”
At the time of its signing, overt housing discrimination was rife throughout the country. Qualified renters were being outrightly rejected and there were also attempts to segregate whole neighborhoods based on race and other factors.
Presently, housing discrimination is often subtle, but it is still an unfortunate reality.
Women, especially those with limited housing options due to poverty, often have little recourse. They are only to tolerate the degradation and humiliation of sexual harassment or risk being kicked out together with their families.
Sometimes, home seekers who are disabled are denied housing because the owner doesn’t want to provide an appropriate parking space or house assistance animals.
Sometimes, housing providers may try to disguise their discrimination by giving false information regarding housing availability. They may, for instance, steer home seekers to certain areas based on race or blatantly say that there is no vacancy.
The Fair Housing Act is essential for family opportunity, business and economic success, and community harmony. Housing opportunities affect the availability of jobs, quality of education, families’ health outcomes and what the future holds for all Americans.
What is the Fair Housing Act?
Also known as the Civil Rights Act of 1968, this Act prevents discrimination on the basis of certain protected classes. The classes include familial status, religion, disability, national origin, race, color, sex, or composition of a family.
In addition, it protects people from discrimination while “buying, renting, or securing financing for any housing.” The Act is enforced by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
More than a whopping 25,000 housing discrimination complaints were filed with the federal government and local and national fair housing agencies in 2017, according to the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA).
Twenty percent of the complaints were based on race and over fifty percent were based on disability.
And, these are just incidents that have been successfully reported. The NHFA approximates that there are more than four million incidences that go unreported every year. In some cases, people simply don’t know what steps to take when it occurs. In others, the victims don’t even realize they have been discriminated against.
3 Things Landlords Should Know About the Fair Housing Act
Fair Housing Laws are not the same as Landlord-Tenant Laws. Landlord-tenant laws cover subjects like the eviction process, legal notices, security deposits, and property maintenance.
Fair housing laws, on the other hand, protect tenants from discrimination and ensure they are afforded an equal opportunity to rent the housing of their choice.
1. Be careful how you advertise your rental property.
The Fair Housing Act strictly prohibits the publishing, making, or printing of ads that state a limitation, discrimination, or preference based on protected classes. Rental ads can focus on a property’s amenities, attributes, and location but not on the nature of desirable tenants.
When advertising your rental, do not mention things like:
- Great for working folks or students.
- Suits mature individual or couple.
- Perfect for a female student.
- Suitable for single professional.
- Ideal for a quiet couple.
If you use these statements in your rental ads, you suggest that you prefer some people over others. Tenants who don’t fit the description may feel that they won’t be treated fairly.
Other examples include:
- “No pets.” This statement may imply that persons who use service animals such as dogs shouldn’t apply.
- “Not soundproof.” This may show bias against families and musicians.
2. Be precise in your tenant screening.
Tenant screening is the key to a landlord’s success. However, if it is not carried out properly it can lead to conflict between both parties.
When interviewing prospective renters, landlords are often thorough. While that is perfectly fine, asking them certain questions may lead to legal problems. Asking a tenant about their religion or race, for example, is a big no-no. This is because they are discriminatory as stated in the Fair Housing Laws.
Here are some questions that violate Fair Housing Rules that you should avoid at all costs:
- How old are you?
- What are your sexual preferences?
- Are you divorced?
- Are you married?
- Do you go to church in this neighborhood?
- Are you pregnant? I don’t want a baby disturbing the other tenants.
- Are you disabled? I don’t allow animals, so I can’t allow your service dog.
- What is your first language?
- Where were your parents born?
- Are you white or Hispanic?
Also, ensure that you ask everyone the same set of tenant screening questions. If you don’t, you may be accused of discrimination.
In addition, you can’t ask a prospective tenant whether he or she has ever been arrested. Why? Because being arrested and being convicted mean two different things.
3. Follow the eviction process.
Evicting a renter is never fun, but sometimes there may be no choice. When it comes down to it, you should make sure you follow the eviction law to the last letter.
Avoid doing things like shutting off the tenant’s utilities or changing the locks on the door. This is what is referred to as a “self-help” eviction. It’s illegal. Retaliatory evictions are illegal, too. You cannot evict a tenant because they have exercised their legal rental rights.
To evict a renter, you must have a legitimate reason. One good example is non-payment of rent. In such a case, you would first need to send the tenant a lease termination notice. Although notices vary depending on the state, they generally give the tenant two options: to pay or move out.
If the renter pays, you should cease the eviction process. But, if they don’t, you can proceed to file an eviction lawsuit against them in court. The court will then determine the outcome after hearing both sides.
The Federal Fair Housing Act protects all buyers and renters from landlord discrimination. So as a landlord, you must not discriminate against tenants or prospective tenants based on ethnicity, disability, familial status, religion, gender, or race.