No property owner wishes to receive a fair housing discrimination claim, and no tenant desires to be on the receiving end of discrimination. Yet, year after year, thousands of violations are reported. In 2020, there were 28,712 fair housing complaints involving federally protected classes and state/local housing laws. At a more local level, the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana received 259 fair housing allegations in 2019 alone.
To stay on the right side of the law and ensure the fair treatment of applicants and tenants, landlords must understand the Fair Housing Act (federal and local protections) and reduce opportunities for bias. This is possible by utilizing technology, demonstrating consistency with rules, and advertising responsibly.
1. Use Property Management Software to Screen Applicants
If you think it’s easy to remove yourself from bias, think again. Biases exist in everyone and serve as part of the human decision-making process. In fact, there are around 180 types of cognitive biases alone, such as information bias (the tendency to want more information in order to “come to a good decision” even if the information is irrelevant). While biases lead to quick decisions, they also may lead to poor ones and perpetuate discrimination. That’s why it’s a noble pursuit to examine personal biases you may not be cognizant of on a day-to-day basis and find solutions that reduce human error, such as applicant screening technology.
Property management software that screens applicants will provide you with the applications of everyone who qualifies. This helps to avoid discrimination and provides proof of a fair screening process, should you need it. With technology, you’ll know why an applicant was accepted or rejected based on the criteria alone. This said, it’s important to make sure you set criteria in line with the Fair Housing Act in Indiana.
2. Have Consistent Rules & Policies for All Applicants & Residents
What’s true for one applicant or resident should be true for all applicants and residents. Define what you want for employment history, income, and credit scores. Resident rules, such as no smoking inside or no loud noise after eight, should apply to all tenants. Similarly, there should be a set protocol for when a rule is broken, with a process that documents violations and resolutions. This protocol must be enforced the same for everyone.
If you have employees or a property manager, make sure all parties are aware of the federal and local fair housing laws in Indiana. Have employees sign a form stating they understand and agree to adhere to the Fair Housing Act, with an explanation of consequences for violating the agreement. Your tenants will feel respected, and you can have greater peace of mind throughout your day knowing everyone is on the same page.
3. Be Mindful in Advertising
If you choose to advertise a vacancy, be mindful of how you advertise and who you depict. It’s best to show off the assets of the property, but if you include people, showcase a diverse range of individuals and families. In addition, make sure your website is accessible–and this doesn’t mean having it formatted to look good on smartphones and laptops (although that is important); it also means using descriptive alt text for images and incorporating accessibility tools that help individuals with disabilities understand the website.
By following these guidelines, you can ensure your tenants feel safe and equally valued while feeling good that you’re part of the solution when it comes to fostering a better and more renter-friendly city.
And if you’re looking for a partner for property management who understands Indiana fair housing laws, we invite you to reach out to WILMOTH Group.