Beware of the Top 10 Fair Housing Mistakes

Written on May 10, 2013 by , updated on May 9, 2017

Fair Housing MistakesHousing 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.”
Top 10 Fair Housing Mistakes

Infographic: Top Ten Fair Housing Mistakes

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.

Source: Grace Hill

Top 10 Fair Housing Mistakes

http://learn.gracehill.com/EB-2013-04-01HiptobeFair_FHMMain.html

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6 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Chris

    Hi Lucas,
    Your site has been very helpful, but I would like a clarification on a fair housing subject. Familial status is protected and we’re not supposed to ask about number of children, pregnancy, etc., but how are we to find out if they can realistically even live in the house comfortably and safely? I’m in the process of purchasing my first rental property, and as such, I’m starting small with a two bedroom single family home. Obviously there would be legitimate concern if, for example, a family with six children decided to apply at my rental, but how am I to find out if I can’t ask or base my decision on the size of the family. Unfortunately, there are families out there that are in a tough financial situation and may think squeezing into a small place is their best or only option. I feel for them and their situation (I come from a poor family myself), but that level of crowding is unsafe. How can this be handled if it arises either during the application process or after?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Chris,

      It’s great to meet you. That’s a great question.

      It’s not that you can’t ask, it’s that you can’t discriminate against them. Most lawyers would tell you not to ask because if you don’t ask, then you can’t be accused of discriminating. But it’s not the question that is illegal.

      Personally, I ask how many occupants will be in the house, and require that all adults are listed on the lease.

      Every county has it’s own occupancy rules that are dependent on the zoning of your property. Many counties allow two people per bedroom, but the rules do vary, so you should check with you local county zoning dept.

      To be honest, you can’t discriminate upon the size of the family, but you also don’t have to allow them to live there if it’s outside the legal occupancy limits. If your unit is limited to 4 people by law, then you could certainly deny a 5 person family. Again, check with your county.

      Also, if the tenants aren’t related, then they aren’t protected under familial status. You could deny 4 unrelated roommates in favor of a group of 3, assuming all other things are equal.

      I hope that helps. Please know that I’m not a lawyer, nor is this legal advice.

  • vanessa knight

    My landlords “Newport Housing Authority” play favoritism to seniors, while the hell with me being 48 years old. Using age discrimination to determine what tenant receives more consideration than another is against “Fair Housing policy/guidelines is it not? “That is illegal.”
    It’s bad enough apartments are built with paper thin walls and floorboards that have neighbors being bothered with one another. But in my case, I was bothered by inconsiderate neighbor with late night tv volume . My housing manager told me to either move my bed into living room or move out, instead of…having me come into office to file complaint to enforce lease provisions.
    I love my apartment home, and don’t want to move. My complaints to HUD have helped some.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Vanessa,

      It sounds like you’ve tried all options except for the most powerful one: hire a lawyer to write a strong worded letter to your housing manager. That will usually get their attention.

      Alternatively, you could continue to talk to your neighbor (or bang on their ceiling – did you ever see that episode of FRIENDS?), so that he is annoyed when you are annoyed.

  • Kendall Everett

    Making sure that the maintenance team attends to request in a fair manner is important. Having them not choose who they see next is a good way to avoid appearing discriminatory. It may help to assign the next task to maintenance so they don’t get to choose who they see next.

  • Emily May

    Really new on this sight so I’ll give it a try.
    I’m trying to find some information on service animals. I’ve been told, in Albany, Oregon if you have less than 3 rentals you’re not held to accepting someone with a service animal. Cost us a lot of money for damages in a rental because of animals. The tenant was not making a lot of money so I knew we would never collect. Didn’t know I could put her on a list for future tenant screening and I wasn’t a seasoned landlord to know how to deal with this person. We now have a strong “No animals or Smokers”.
    Also, the first come first serve with rental applicants. What if the first three don’t meet your requirements and do you have to tell them why you declined them.
    Emm

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