An overview of what the FHA is and who it protects
Every prospective tenant who applies for your rental has the right to be treated fairly and equally according to the Fair Housing Act. The Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968 by the U.S. Congress. Its aim was to prevent landlords and real estate agents from discriminatory housing practices, particularly in their screening processes.
In this post, we’ll provide a basic overview of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). As a landlord, familiarizing yourself with this act can help you avoid potential legal issues. You should know this law as well as you know the landlord-tenant laws in your state.
What is the Fair Housing Act?
The Fair Housing Act, otherwise known as the FHA, was enacted by Congress in 1968 to ensure housing practices are fair. The FHA prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on sex, national origin, religion, and race.
The FHA was later amended in 1988 to include families with children and people with disabilities.
A brief history of the FHA
The FHA was originally put before Congress in 1966 to help address issues pertaining to racial discrimination in real estate matters. Over the next 2 years, both the Senate and House of Representatives considered the bill. However, on every occasion, both failed to amass the necessary support to pass the bill.
One of the bill’s fiercest supporters was none other than Martin Luther King, Jr. He was responsible for multiple civil marches in Chicago during the 1960s. After King’s assassination in 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson marshaled Congress to pass the bill in his memory.
At the same time, other organizations were also putting pressure on Congress to pass the bill. Such organizations included the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing, the American GI Forum, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Exactly 7 days after King’s assassination, the Fair Housing Act was finally passed by Congress. The department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was mandated with enforcing it.
What classes does the FHA protect?
At the federal level, the FHA protects prospective tenants and homebuyers against discrimination based on 7 classes. The classes are sex, color, race, disability, religion, familial status, and national origin.
Some states have also amended the FHA to include even more protected classes. Texas, for example, includes protected classes such as genetic information, citizenship status, and age.
What are some common violations to the FHA?
There were about 30,000 discrimination complaints in 2017, according to the National Fair Housing Alliance. Some of these violations were not intentional. For example, an eviction involving hoarders who are protected under the Fair Housing Act.
Whether or not the violation of the FHA is intentional, the law still applies. This is according to a ruling made by the Supreme Court in 2015.
Are there penalties for violating the FHA?
As a landlord, violating the Fair Housing Act can result in costly penalties. The costs range from $19,787 to $98,935 depending on the number of violations you have committed.
How can you avoid violating the FHA?
The following are a few things you could do to avoid violating the act.
Have a consistent tenant screening process.
Avoid using different qualifying standards for different applicants. For example, if you require documentation or a referral from one prospective tenant, make sure you also require that from other tenants as well.
Be mindful of the statements you use in your rental ad.
Avoid statements such as “suits a mature couple,” “perfect for singles,” “suitable for a quiet couple,” and “must have working income.” All these statements indicate that you prefer some tenants over others which is discriminatory. Rather than focusing on describing the kind of tenant you want, focus on describing what your property offers instead.
Don’t be subjective in your qualification guidelines.
Your grounds for rejecting a prospective tenant should only be based on their failure to meet your qualification criteria and nothing else.
Be sensitive to the needs of disabled tenants.
Asking a disabled person anything remotely related to their disability can be taken to be discriminatory. Avoid such questions to the best of your ability. Also, note that service animals aren’t considered pets. Even with a “no pets” policy, make sure you’re open to service animals.
Questions to avoid during a tenant screening process
Below are a couple of questions that landlords should avoid during a tenant screening process.
- When do you plan on retiring? As casual as it may seem, a tenant may take it to mean something else altogether. Age is a protected class under the FHA.
- Are you a Christian? A tenant may take this to mean that you don’t rent to Christians and that would be discriminative.
- What is your first language? A person’s first language has nothing to do with renting your property. National origin is also a protected class under the FHA Act.
The right questions to ask when screening prospective tenants
The following are some of the questions you could ask your tenants without infringing upon their Fair Housing Rights. Just make sure you ask them to every applicant.
- In the past, have you ever broken a lease agreement?
- Have you ever been evicted?
- What is your monthly income?
- Do you smoke?
- How many people will occupy the unit?
- How long have you lived in your current home?
- Do you have pets?
- What date would you want to move in?
Do you still have some questions that you feel were left unanswered? If so, OmniKey Realty can help. We are a full-service real estate investment and property management company servicing certain areas of Texas. Contact us to have your questions answered!
Disclaimer: This blog is only informational. Do not substitute it for professional legal advice. If you have a question regarding the content herein, please do get in touch with us.