Fair Housing, what is it really, and does it apply to you?

I’m sure you have heard the term “Fair Housing.” You probably know it is a law designed to stop discrimination and has something to do with, well… housing. However, what you may not know, is if this law applies to YOU, a private landlord, and if it does, precisely what you need to know so you don’t break the law without even knowing it.

Hi, I’m Becca, and I make owning and managing rental properties simple and landlord life fun.

Let’s break it down to the basics and KEEP IN SIMPLE

Fair Housing Act, also called Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, is a FEDERAL law designed to stop discrimination in housing. You can read the full bill here if that is your thing =) https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/42/chapter-45

Who does the FHA protect? (and the Rental Property Mama’s simplified definitions)

-Color (can’t discriminate because of the color of someone’s skin)

-Disability (can’t discriminate because of a disability even if you think the limitation would make the home unsuitable for them in your opinion. Ie: two-story home and a person in a wheelchair)

-Familial Status (protects families with children and pregnant women)

-National Origin (protects people from discrimination based on where they are from)

-Race (protects people from discrimination based on heritage or ancestry)

-Religion (protects people from discrimination based on their faith)

-Gender (This is not just Male/Female but also LGBTQ)

Are there other protected classes?

YES!!! What I have listed above are the FEDERAL protected classes. Many states, counties, and cities have also added protected classes, and you must be aware of them. For example, Orange County Florida has a county law protecting sexual orientation. You need to know your local laws.

What does the FHA say you CAN NOT DO to people in the protected classes above?

  1. Refusing to rent housing, sell housing, or negotiate for housing
  2. Making housing unavailable or lying about the availability of housing
  3. Denying housing
  4. Establishing different terms or conditions in home selling or renting
  5. Providing different housing accommodations or amenities
  6. Blockbusting (convincing homeowners to sell based on fear of a protected class moving into the area)
  7. Denying participation in housing-related services such as a multiple listing service

Does the FHA apply to you as a “small investor”

Yes! However…. You may be exempt in certain situations. Exemptions include: Owner-occupied buildings with no more than 4 units (as long as no discriminating advertising is used), Housing rented without the use of a broker (as long as the owner does not own more than 3 houses).

Basically, you are exempt from FHA if:

The property is a quad or smaller AND live in one of the units

No discriminatory advertising is used

A broker is NOT used to advertise or rent the house

You own 3 or fewer houses

This does not mean that as a decent human being, you should discriminate, but now you know the facts on the law.

Super easy way to make sure you follow the FHA

  1. Simply treat everyone the same, even if you think a home is not right for them. It’s just that simple. If someone a wheelchair wants to see a second-floor condo with no elevator, set the appointment. The person may surprise you. If an applicant looks like they “would not fit in”, that’s not for you to decide, show them the unit. If an applicant says words that make me think they won’t qualify for the home, that is not for me to decide on the spot, let them apply.
  2. Anyone who wants to see a home you have on the market (who passes the phone screening test which does not violate any Fair Housing laws) SHOW IT TO THEM.
  3. Anyone who views a home, hand them a rental application and/or directions on how to apply
  4. Anyone who meets the Resident Selection Criteria (as long as your RSL does not violate FHA, http://rebeccap5.sg-host.com/weed-out-terrible-tenants-resident-selection-criteria/) rent them the home.

It’s just that simple. I don’t even worry about memorizing the protected classes. If you treat everyone the same, it does not matter if you are required to follow Fair Housing laws, you just follow the laws naturally.