As I mentioned in a previous article, owning rental property can be an effective strategy for building wealth. Navigating federal and state fair housing laws can be extremely complex; it’s critical to have the assistance of a qualified property manager or a comprehensive knowledge of the subject.
The topic of how to avoid a fair housing violation is one of the most complicated subjects that we tackle on a daily basis here at Sweyer Property Management. To write about it fully would require much more space than we have here, but the following is a good foundation.
Fair housing laws prohibit discrimination in the housing market on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, handicap or familial status. To discriminate against a person on the basis of his or her membership in one of these protected categories is against the law.
Here is a list of some of the most frequently asked questions we have received over the years pertaining to fair housing:
- Are there any words I should avoid in my advertising? In general, a good rule of thumb is to avoid referring to any specific group when advertising a rental property. Stick to the facts instead of mentioning that the home is located “in a quiet family neighborhood” or that it would be “good for a young executive.” This will help you avoid a claim that you are discriminating against other groups.
- What types of questions can I ask potential residents? The screening of applicants for a rental property has a variety of implications for landlords. Many people call us wondering if it is OK to ask about previous evictions, bankruptcy issues, money judgments or why an individual is leaving his or her current residence. While these questions are usually acceptable, it’s not advisable to ask about a person’s mental disabilities, physical challenges, or history of drug and alcohol abuse.
- Is it OK to deny an accommodation requested by a disabled tenant? If a disabled tenant asks for an accommodation that places an undue burden on the landlord or simply isn’t reasonable then it is typically permissible to deny the request. The denial of the request must be presented to the tenant in writing and there are many other details that have to be included in the letter. For a detailed consultation about this subject, contact us at the email address below. It’s interesting to note that offering to provide a potential tenant with an accommodation before that person has asked for it could expose a landlord to a fair housing violation.
- Can I make my tenants acknowledge that they accept the community rules? Having tenants sign that they accept the rules and regulations of the applicable Home Owner’s Association (HOA) is something we encourage. As an example, some HOAs do not allow tenants to have pets or require minimum lease terms. For investors with a multi-unit building, it is permissible to have a set of house rules that apply to parking limitations, noise, sharing of facilities, storage areas, et cetera. As always, local and fair housing laws should be reviewed. The rules pertaining to enforcement and documentation are very detailed. Having a property manager help with enforcement is critical to maintaining a good relationship with your community as a landlord.
The necessity of keeping detailed records as a strategy for avoiding a fair housing violation could be the subject of another entire article. So could the eviction process.
To learn more about the implications of fair housing or schedule a no-obligation rental analysis for your investment property, please reach out to our team of experts here.