Landlord 101: Do Not Discriminate

Discrimination is wrong in all aspects of life, but if you are a landlord it can also get you in big trouble. Last month the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced it was charging a landlord in New Orleans with housing discrimination for publishing an advertisement that discriminated against families with children. The language stated “No Teenagers Please.” Landlord 101: do not post your discrimination in an advertisement.

I’m sure this person has their reasons for not wanting teenagers. Unfortunately for her, the law doesn’t care. Also, what about parents with kids who are 10, 11, 12? When the child turns 13 are they supposed to move out. They may at least feel uncomfortable knowing the landlord doesn’t like teenagers. This is the black hole that discriminatory posts can lead down.

Here’s a quick refresher from Ali Safavi Real Estate on housing discrimination law:

The federal Fair Housing Act, the Fair Housing Amendment Acts (42 U.S. Code 3601–3619, 3631), and many state and local laws prohibit a landlord from selecting tenants based on certain protected criteria. A landlord may not refuse to rent to a tenant for the following reasons:

  • Race or color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Disability or handicap, including physical and mental impairment
  • Sex, including sexual harassment
  • Familial status (includes protection for people with children under age 18 or pregnant women)

In addition, state and local housing discrimination laws may offer coverage beyond federal law, such as protection for sexual orientation, age, and marital status.

A landlord must treat every tenant equally. Illegal discrimination occurs when the landlord:

  • Refuses to rent to members of a certain race
  • Denies the availability of a available rental dwelling or steers renters to a certain area based on race
  • Creates unreasonable restrictions on the number of people that may live in the rental unit
  • Includes preferences or limitations in a rental advertisement
  • Creates different terms or standards for certain tenants
  • Terminates a tenancy based on a discriminatory reason
  • Provides services or facilities only for certain tenants
  • Demands sexual favors or creates a sexually hostile environment
  • Refuses to make reasonable accommodations for a disabled tenant
  • Fails to stop another tenant from making discriminatory, harassing, or threatening comments to a person in a protected category

The Fair Housing Acts apply to any person that deals with tenants and prospective tenants, including real estate agents, property owners, landlords, and managers. Even if the property owner did not personally discriminate against tenants or prospective tenants, the landlord may still be liable for the civil rights violations of employees.

The Fair Housing Acts do not apply to every rental property. Exempt property includes:

  • Senior housing: Housing qualifies for this exemption if 1) HUD has made a determination that the dwelling is designed and occupied by elderly residents under a local, state, or federal program; or 2) all residents are 62 or older; or 3) at least one person who is 55 years old or older resides in 80 percent of the occupied units and the public is made aware that the housing unit intends to provide senior housing to people 55 or older
  • Owner-occupied housing: An owner lives in a building with four or fewer units
  • Some owners of single family homes: A single family home is owned by a private person and rented without the use of a real estate broker or discriminatory advertising
  • Some housing owned by religious organizations and private clubs: Housing that limits occupancy to its members

Local and state housing discrimination laws may still apply to federally exempt property, however.

What are the legal reasons that a landlord can reject a prospective tenant?

A landlord must base the selection of tenants on pre-established and objective criteria. A landlord may reject prospective tenants based on a fair screening process that requires all tenants to undergo the same application process. A landlord may consider the following when screening a tenant:

  • Credit history
  • Income
  • History of nonpayment of rent
  • Prior bankruptcies
  • References
  • Some types of criminal convictions
  • Pets