Housing discrimination is a serious and common issue in the rental housing market.
This article discussed the Top 10 Fair Housing mistakes that you can make – all of which can get you in serious legal trouble and can cost you thousands of dollars.
In case you missed it, April was “National Fair Housing Month” among Landlords and Property Managers in the US. As a public service, the team at Gracehill.com released this infographic to raise awareness on illegal discrimination and fair housing regulations.
According to the National Fair Housing Alliance there are more than 4 million fair housing violations annually, with only a small amount of those being reported.
For a quick lesson in Fair Housing 101, check out Tip #24, Know What is Considered Illegal Discrimination.
Top 10 Fair Housing Mistakes
10. Prohibiting children from certain activities, such as stating that “Children may not ride bicycles on the sidewalk.”
It is illegal to treat households with children differently than households without children. The community rule stated here would be perfectly acceptable if rephrased this way: “No riding bicycles on the sidewalk.”
9. Asking a prospective resident, “How many kids do you have?” or “Are you pregnant?”
Those who are pregnant or in the process of securing legal custody of a child are also protected under “familial status.” Although those questions may seem courteous, they could be considered discriminatory.
8. Failing to research whether or not there are additional protected classes beyond the “Federal Seven” in your state, city or local area.
Individual states, cities, and municipalities may also have additional protected classes beyond the “Federal Seven“. For instance, in Madison and Dane counties in Wisconsin there are ten additional protected classes. If you weren’t aware that someone’s political beliefs or their student status were protected, you may inadvertently say something that could be construed as discriminatory. For more on this example, click here to visit the Fair Housing Council of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
7. Failing to document what rent specials were offered to each prospective resident.
If prospective resident makes an accusation of discrimination, HUD may ask for all documentation including the rent offered, apartments shown, specials, deposits, and fees. If you cannot provide this documentation it is significantly more difficult to prove discrimination did not occur. HUD often enters into conciliation agreements with communities that cannot produce the documentation showing they didn’t discriminate. Conciliation agreements are better than a lawsuit, but they are still no fun.
6. Declining a rental application for any other reason than the prospective resident not meeting your stated qualification criteria.
The best way to avoid a Fair Housing discrimination charge is to avoid discriminating in the first place. Approve or deny your rental applications solely on the basis of your rental qualification guidelines. Do not allow subjective rental criteria. Post your qualification guidelines for all to see.
5. Denying a disabled resident’s request for an assigned parking spot because you have existing handicap spots that you think should suffice.
It’s always wise to consult with your supervisor—and if possible, legal counsel—before denying a request for an accommodation.
4. Refusing to allow a resident to have a service animal because your community does not accept pets.
Service animals are not pets. Rather, these animals help disabled persons overcome the limitations of their disabilities and the barriers in their environment. Because they are not pets, they are not subject to pet restrictions or pet rules, such as additional deposits, size, weight or breed restrictions, or exclusions from areas where people are generally welcome.
3. Evicting a hoarder instead of accommodating them for their disability.
Hoarding has come into the spotlight in recent years, in large part due to several television shows on the subject. What many don’t realize is that hoarding is considered a disorder, and those who hoard are thus protected under the Fair Housing Act. Proceed with caution when you discover a hoarding situation at your community.
2. Allowing the maintenance team to choose which service request to respond to next, in no particular order.
Avoid any appearance of “playing favorites” by responding to service requests in a defined and orderly fashion. The city of Seattle offers great advice in their Fair Housing Basics guide:
A common complaint that fair housing enforcement agencies receive is that members of one protected class get their maintenance requests handled more quickly than do members of another protected class. To avoid this type of allegation, consider establishing a clear maintenance response policy and document requests for repairs. Keep thorough documentation of work requests and maintenance actions taken, for one year or longer.
1. Failing to train all associates who interact with customers, including your maintenance team members, on Fair Housing laws.
Every member of your team who works with customers must be fully informed about Fair Housing laws, protected classes, and your company’s expectations of their performance. This topic is not limited to leasing or management personnel! After all, once a resident moves in, it is often the maintenance associates who have the most contact with them during their residency. Protect your employees, your community and your company by requiring annual Fair Housing training for all of your associates.