How much do you know about the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and how it affects you as a landlord or property investor?
Well, if you don’t know much, you may be putting yourself at risk of being sued for discrimination. So, it is always good to learn about the FHA.
This post covers everything you need to know about the Fair Housing Act, including its:
Read more to find out what you need to know about the housing act.
1. The History of Fair Housing
With over 5 decades in existence, the Fair Housing Act is one of America’s strongest pieces of legislation.
It mainly focuses on fair and equal access to housing; which is arguably a critical necessity in life.
Why were the fair housing laws and regulations necessary?
During the mid-1800s, unfair housing practices were rampant. And as years went by, there was mounting pressure to change this state of affairs.
The pressure, among other things, gave birth to the famous Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Thereafter, this gave way to the Rumford Fair Housing Act (1963) and the Civil Rights Act (1964).
Eventually, in 1968, the Fair Housing Act was enacted. Barely a week after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.
At that time, the act protected only four classes of people, namely: race, color, national origin, and religion. Later on, sex (1974), disability (1988), and familial status (1988) were added to the list of protected classes.
And just recently, in 2017, a federal judge decreed that sexual orientation and gender identity are also protected classes.
2. A Brief Overview of the Fair Housing Act
Basically, the Fair Housing Act creates a level playing field. It ensures that every American citizen can comfortably and confidently buy or rent a house, in any part of the country and from any class of the society.
In summary, this law protects the federally protected classes:
- National origin
- Familial status
- Sexual orientation (Not yet explicit in the Act)
- Gender identity (Also, not yet explicit)
Generally, discriminating anyone due to any of these protected classes is illegal. It can attract penalties including large fines and/or a jail term.
So, whether you’re selling, renting, or even offering a mortgage loan, you need to avoid being discriminatory by all means.
3. The Goals and Objectives of the Fair Housing Law
The Federal Fair Housing Act aims to deter landlords and property sellers from discriminating against prospective tenants and buyers.
In other words, this housing act outlaws any unfairness or bias when it comes to renting or selling a property.
Broadly speaking, there are many actions or behaviors of landlords/sellers that can be deemed discriminatory.
Some examples include:
- Using different methods or processes to vet prospects
- Refusing to sell, rent or offer mortgage loans to specific people
- Using discriminating statements when communicating with potential tenants or buyers through ads, calls or even face-to-face.
- Setting different housing terms and conditions for different tenants
- Lacking uniformity in terms of the amenities you offer different prospects
- Failing to avail mortgage information to specific people
- Using varied requirement to award mortgage loans
- Threatening, interfering with or violating a person’s fair housing rights
Therefore, as a landlord, it is your duty to ensure you learn as much as possible about housing discrimination laws. That way you can protect yourself from unnecessary lawsuits.
So, now that you know about the fair housing protected classes and examples of discrimination, the next question to ask is: Who enforces this law?
Generally, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – commonly known as HUD – is responsible for ensuring fair and equal practices in the housing sector.
However, if the plaintiff doesn’t have access to a HUD office, they can file a lawsuit in a district court.
Basically, HUD enforces the fair housing act using two techniques:
- Using fair housing testers. These are people hired to act as prospects. They check whether a landlord, seller, or mortgage lender is operating within the Fair Housing Act.
- Investigating discrimination claims. When HUD receives discrimination claims, an investigation is done to determine if the claim has merit. And once they collect enough evidence/proof, they proceed to prosecute.
5. Fair Housing Act Exemptions
There are a few situations where property sellers, landlords, and mortgage lenders are exempted from this law. These are:
- Members-only private organizations and clubs
- Owner-occupied homes with not more than 4 rentable units
- Single-family homes that weren’t sold/rented through brokers.
6. A Few Simple Workarounds
Despite the presence of the Fair Housing Act, landlords, sellers, and mortgage lenders don’t necessarily have to accept everyone.
Well, aside from the protected classes, you can use some qualifications to weed out bad prospects.
Some of them include:
- Having a criminal record
- Uncertain income
- Inability to pay rent
- Bad tenant-landlord history
- Poor credit rating
By basing your tenant screening on these qualifications, you can easily refine your list of applicants down to the best and most-suitable ones.
With this in mind, landlords, property sellers, or mortgage lenders have everything they need to avoid a housing discrimination lawsuit. The most important thing to do is to treat every prospective tenant with dignity, respect, and fairness.
Also, remember that a HUD agent pretending to be a prospect is the last thing you’d expect. But it does happen. Therefore, avoid being discriminatory to be on the safe side. This helps you to build your business’ credibility while avoiding potentially nasty lawsuits.