Juggling and staying on top of the frequently changing federal, state, and local laws that apply to rental housing is one of the trickiest tasks you’ll have to master as a property manager. At the top of the list of housing regulations you must abide by are equal housing rules and regulations as determined and enforced by the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO). As always with rules and regulations, it’s imperative you stay on top of regulations as they’re subject to change. With that in mind, following are some basic equal opportunity housing rules and regulations that every landlord should be aware of.
The Civil Rights and Fair Housing Act mandate that landlords may not discriminate against potential tenants based on their race, color, familial status, or handicap. It’s important to note that, under the Fair Housing Act, it is illegal to refuse rent to families with small children, based on that fact. (For more information and tips for renting to families with kids, check out our previous blog post.)
The Equal Credit Opportunity Act also applies to landlords, as it makes discrimination unlawful “with respect to any aspects of a credit application on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, or because all or part of the applicant’s income derives from any public assistance program.”
Additional anti-discrimination rules apply to those properties that have received federal funding. For instance, under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, HUD enforces anti-discrimination based on disabilities as it relates to “state and local public housing, housing assistance and housing referrals.”
Essentially, these laws all mean that you must offer people of all legal ages, races, creeds, nationalities, family types, and physical capabilities an equal shot at renting your units. This includes not establishing discriminatory terms or conditions for your rental units, denying that housing is available, or advertising that your property is only available for rent to certain types of people (for example, you cannot specify that you rent only to individuals 25 years or older). These laws also apply to third parties; for example, you may not instruct a rental agent to screen out tenants based on any of the above factors. Also remember to check your state and local laws as they may have additional rules and regulations that must be adhered to when it comes to equal opportunity housing.
Being as clear as possible about what does and does not constitute discrimination is extremely important. It’s essential that all landlords are well versed on equal opportunity housing regulations to avoid making any sort of mistake that, despite the best of intentions, may actually constitute discriminatory behavior. Landlords that are suspected of discriminatory behavior are subject to investigation by the United States Department of Housing and Development (HUD). Should you be unclear on equal housing laws and how they apply to your situation, be sure to contact HUD for clarification.