Fair Housing Laws and Private Owners


April has been designated as Fair Housing month. There are many reasons why a private landlord should pay attention to the Fair Housing laws.

Most professional property managers hold a real estate license. All real estate licensees are covered by the Fair Housing laws and there are simply no exceptions to following this law. There are though a couple of possible exemptions for private owners who do not have real estate licenses.

Private Owner Exemptions

  • If the owner lives in a building with four or fewer units
  • Renting a single family residence as long as the owners owns no more than three homes.

There are also exceptions for religious organizations and private clubs renting only to their own members. In addition, senior housing offers exceptions when every tenant is 62 or older or 80% of the occupied units are occupied by at least one person 55 years or older.

Fair Housing and Investors

The purpose of reviewing this important law is to explain how Fair Housing and related laws affect a licensed property manager or professional investors who own four or more single family homes. As the years have passed, it seems like housing discrimination is less of an issue for us as managers-which is great progress in our society. In April though I like to review these rules with our agents and clients alike.

Protected Classes

There are seven protected classes under the Fair Housing Laws. Discrimination is not allowed in the sale, rental or financing of dwellings based on:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National Origin
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Familial Status
  • Disability

How to Get in Trouble

Private landlords have been known to get themselves in trouble with this law in some pretty simple ways. These include discriminatory language in ads, screening applications, occupancy standards, and rental rules.

Fair Housing Example

A property for lease contains a pool. In the article linked above, you learn that discriminating in rental to a family with children for concern of a child getting hurt in the pool is a Fair Housing violation. Lets take this one step further. We have had owners request a release from liability be placed in the lease in case a child gets hurt or drowns in the pool. On the surface this request seems almost reasonable. Beware though, taking away the right a tenant has to sue, just because a child might be injured, is a violation of the Fair Housing Act. It’s considered discrimination against the familial status of your tenant.

In other words, forget about it. Make sure you are protected in other ways. Like insurance.

Understanding Fair Housing is important not just in April, but all year-long. The penalties are far too expensive to treat this law in any way but with the most respect and attention.

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