What is Rental Housing Discrimination?

Rental Housing Discrimination

As a landlord, you are legally obligated to be fair to all tenants. This is especially important during tenant screening when you are accepting and denying prospective tenants. Fair treatment of prospective and current tenants is an important part of being a successful landlord. The penalties for a Fair Housing Law violation can be expensive and can negatively impact your reputation as a landlord. We’re here to explain rental housing discrimination and nine things you should avoid:

Marketing Your Unit and Saying What Kind of Tenants You Want

In your online rental listing, you have the opportunity to write a property description. You’re not allowed to write, “Looking for a young family to rent to.” You also cannot say, “This unit is perfect for a young couple.” But you are allowed to advertise your property in a positive light. For our advice on how to write a rental property description check out our Complete Guide to Finding Tenants. Best practice is to stick to details about your property and not what kind of tenants you’re looking for.

Denying a Tenant Because of Protected Class

According to Fair Housing Laws, you cannot deny a tenant housing based on protected classes:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Gender / Gender identity
  • Familial status
  • Marital status
  • Age
  • Sexual orientation
  • Handicap
  • Participation in the Section 8 Program or other subsidy programs

In other words, the criteria above are not reasons why you can deny a tenant. You cannot say you only want to rent to women, or you only want to rent to married couples, etc. The reason why you accept or deny a tenant must be based on information you find out during tenant screening that is related to the rental process. For more, check out 15 legal reasons to deny a tenant.

Treating Each Prospective Tenant Differently

When it comes to screening your tenants, you need to follow the same process for every tenant. This ensures your process is thorough and complete with every tenant, which is the best way to find quality tenants. But it also makes sure you are not discriminating against anyone. If you require one tenant authorize a background check and not another, then you are discriminating against someone. The best way to be fair and thorough is to strictly follow your tenant screening process with every prospective tenant

Treating Current Tenants Differently

After you’ve selected your tenants, you still need to be fair in order to avoid rental housing discrimination. You cannot require different rules for tenants in the same unit. For example, if you have a late fee rule, then you should enforce it for every tenant on the rental agreement. You cannot pick and choose how you enforce the rules depending on who you’re dealing with because that is discrimination. Similarly, if you have identical units in the same building, you should charge the same rent price and deposits to avoid a discrimination lawsuit. If you have different prices, it can seem as though you are altering the price based on who you rent to.

Saying a Unit is Not Available If It’s Still On the Market

As a landlord, it can be difficult to reject tenants, especially when you feel the need to provide an explanation. That being said, you cannot tell a tenant the unit is no longer available if it is indeed still available. The best way to get around this is to not deny your tenants until you’ve accepted a tenant and he or she has agreed to move forward with signing a rental agreement.

Harassing or Intimidating Tenants

It is considered rental housing discrimination to harass or intimidate your tenants. An example of this is if you create unfair terms for renting someone, i.e. you’ll rent to someone if he or she does something for you. You cannot exchange renting your unit to somebody for anything besides rent money. It’s best to be friendly and professional with your tenants.

Asking Excessive Questions During Tenant Screening

One form of harassment and intimidation is asking excessive questions. As a landlord, you should ask your tenants questions before renting to them, but make sure they are related to being a tenant and are not overly personal. For example, you shouldn’t ask a tenant if he or she is married, has children, etc. However, you are allowed to ask, “How many people will be living in the unit?” After all, you are entitled to know how many people will be in the unit and everyone should be accounted for on the lease, including children and pets.

Steering Tenants to Certain Units or Neighborhoods Based on Race, Age, or Gender

It’s considered discrimination to recommend a unit or neighborhood to a tenant based on their protected class (age, gender, race, marital status, etc). If you want to recommend a unit to someone because of his or her preference for skyline views or an updated kitchen, then that is completely fine. However, you cannot steer someone in a certain direction because you think he or she ‘belongs’ there. Another example of steering is if you only show disabled tenants a unit on the first floor. If you think your recommendation might be biased, it’s best not to steer tenants to particular units or neighborhoods at all.

Refusing to Accommodate a Reasonable Disability Request

Having a disability is a protected class according to Fair Housing Laws. For this reason, you cannot accept or deny a tenant based on his or her disability. Furthermore, a disabled tenant might request modifications to the rental property to make it a comfortable and safe place for him or her to live. It is up to you to decide whether or not the request is reasonable, based on cost and how extensive the alteration to the property is. You can use your discretion when deciding whether or not you can accommodate the request. Overall, it’s best to be accommodating when the request is reasonable, otherwise the denial of the request is considered discrimination.

Next Steps

Read our extensive Guide to Tenant Screening to learn how to screen your tenants, including how to review a tenant’s rental application, analyze a tenant credit report and background check, and how to properly accept or deny tenants.

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Originally published at Rentalutions.

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