How to avoid rental property discrimination

Cathy Fontana
Cathy Fontana | 3 min. read

Published on July 23, 2013

What do you know about rental discrimination? Apparently there’s quite a bit of it going on across the country right now, so it’s an appropriate topic of conversation for property owners and managers alike.

Discrimination in its most basic form is treating people differently for one reason or another, usually based on a prejudice. What we’ve been hearing of most often is discrimination in rental situations against individuals with children. That’s right: Kids. Landlords have been assuming it’s their right to decide not to let an individual or family move into a rental unit when it means children under a certain age are part of package.

Can Property Managers Discriminate Against Kids?

The simple answer is no. Tenant rights by their very definition include the tenant’s children as well. And in the U.S., there is legislation designed specifically to address this issue. The Fair Housing Act states the following:

Unless a building or community qualifies as housing for older persons, it may not discriminate based on familial status. That is, it may not discriminate against families in which one or more children fewer than 18 live with:

  • A parent
  • A person who has legal custody of the child or children or
  • The designees of the parent or legal custodian, with parent or custodians written

Familial status protection also applies to pregnant women and anyone securing legal custody of a child under 18.

Protecting Your Property Management Company Against Lawsuits

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has been following through with charges against many landlords and property managers that violate the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against propsective tenants with children. As an example, HUD filed charges against a Jackson, Minnesota landlord in January 2013 when he refused to rent an apartment to a mother with a young daughter. In such cases, if the administrative judge finds in favor of the family, he may not only award damages and attorney fees, but also order injunctive or other equitable relief to prevent further discrimination. In federal court, a judge may also award punitive damages.

So, how do you ensure your property management doesn’t cross that line? Here are some tips:

  • Watch your words. Do not place wording in advertisements that can in any way lead someone to draw the conclusion that your property is not child-friendly. And, by all means, do not tell someone you won’t accept tenants with children.
  • Families are not subject to occupancy limits, so don’t even think about trying to lay them out there (yes, a family of ten has rights too).
  • No adults-only policies.
  • Do not make the rent or deposit amount for families different than what is asked of every other tenant.
  • There is to be no limiting or restricting of families only to certain areas of the property or floors of a building.

Educating Yourself and Your Team on the Fair Housing Act

To be safe, it’s always wise to not only educate yourself on the Fair Housing Act, its guidelines, and implications, but also to educate your entire management staff . It’s also a good practice to have staff members at any level of contact with prospective and current tenants sign a disclaimer stating they have been made aware of the laws and the company’s position on discrimination of any kind.

How does your company ensure there’s no discrimination when screening prospective tenants? What advice would you give to fellow property managers? Please join the conversation by sharing your experiences below.

Read more on Legal Considerations
Cathy Fontana

Cathy Fontana is with Class A Management in Hurst, Texas.

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