The Fair Housing Act and you

Geoff Roberts
Geoff Roberts | 3 min. read

Published on August 23, 2010

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) exists to ensure that all potential tenants are given an equal opportunity to obtain residency. This anti-discrimination  policy means that, as a landlord or property manager, you are not allowed to base tenancy at your property upon any of the following factors, including: age, race, color, religion, familial status, or handicap.

This law is straightforward enough; however, there are certain common instances in which landlords find themselves inadvertently in violation of this act. A common slip-up that can potentially lead to legal troubles down the line is searching for a certain “type” of tenant based upon your property’s location, amenities, or general pre-existing demographic.

As clearly stated in the FHA, you cannot base your decision upon whether or not to accept a tenant on their situation or life circumstances. If you have a ten-unit complex that is primarily occupied by students, chances are that other students (as opposed to families or young professionals) are going to be most enticed by your property. To achieve maximum visibility among this target demographic, you should place advertisements in outlets that cater to the university population in your area—school-affiliated publications, websites, and bulletin boards at local college hang-outs, for example. Explain in your advertisement that the unit is perfect for college students based on its proximity to the university. As prospective tenants want to find a situation that is most conducive to their lifestyle, chances are that a self-selection process will occur. Bear in mind, however, that your advertising may in no way, shape, or form indicate that your unit is only available for students—that is in violation of the FHA.

If, for example, a family of three (as opposed to a student) is interested in the unit and meets all of the necessary qualifications (including reference, credit, and criminal checks) and the apartment is available, you are obligated to rent to them. No matter how strongly you feel that your complex may be unsuitable for families rather than students, under the FHA denying them tenancy will count as discrimination in a case where that decision is based solely upon their status and situation.

No matter how pure your intentions are, if your practices are not in line with the FHA, you can find yourself in a significant predicament. Local and state laws may provide additional stipulations. If ever you are in doubt of how FHA laws apply to you and your property, immediately seek legal counsel or clarification from an association or other in-the-know professional agency—this is one of those cases where ignorance can have severe repercussions.

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Geoff Roberts

Geoff is a marketer, surfer, musician, and writer. He lives in San Diego, CA.

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