You Need to Know your Fair Housing Acts to Survive the Industry

Now is the time to discuss everyone’s favorite subject, fair housing law. Such a fun topic, right up there with favorite sports team, latest blockbusting movies, and that funny thing your dog did.

Fine, talking law and restrictions is barely fun for the lawyers. That doesn’t mean the conversation can or should be avoided.

One of the most dangerous things that a rental property owner or multifamily professional can do is accidentally (or intentionally) cross swords with the Fair Housing Act (FHA). One of the most defining laws of the industry, the FHA was created to ensure every person that applies for a place to live has an equal chance of getting it. In no way was the FHA the first of its kind, as the Rumford Fair Housing Act was writ just a handful of years before, and similar laws struggled their way towards change since the 1800s. However, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 was greatly different because of its success in changing the game of renting.

The Law Created for Everyone

While the law was created in the height of the Civil Rights Movement, it covered seven types of discrimination.

  • Race
  • Color
  • National Origin
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Familial Status
  • Disability

That means it is illegal to refuse rent or selling to those listed, use different criteria to qualify, impose separate rules or prices, and other adjusted behaviors. Any kind of harassment, refusal to provide, perform, or repair for a resident based on these kinds of Other-isms is a dangerous game in the rental housing industry.

Additional Protected Classes All Around

Race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, and family status (such as pregnancy and children) are protected on a national basis, but that doesn’t hold as limited truth across the country. For example, in California, the list continues with additional protected classes.

The surfing state protects a wide range of people and seeks to allow everyone, no matter what, available housing. Examples of discrimination based on ‘arbitrary characteristics’ range between suggesting a resident may not fit in the local community to treating them well on the phone but not in person. It can be an odd choice of hair color or tattoos.

In Maine, they don’t protect those with ‘arbitrary characteristics’ but they do protect other additional classes. Aside from the national classes, they protect:

  • Ancestry
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Receipt of Public Assistance

Checking Local Law

That is why it is always advised to check on local law. With the wide range of laws that change all over the states, asking a lawyer about local law and potential changes to those laws can help rental property owners protect themselves. Staying informed and adjusting renting policies with regards to these laws is the best way to stay one step ahead of getting in trouble.

For example, New York City has its own human rights laws. In the Big Apple, the protected classes include:

  • Age
  • Alienage or citizenship status
  • Color
  • Creed/religion/race
  • Disability
  • Family status
  • Gender/Gender identity
  • Lawful occupation
  • Lawful source of income
  • Marital/Partnership Status
  • National Origin
  • Race
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Immigration Status
  • Military Service
  • Pregnancy
  • Presence of Children
  • Status of Victim of Domestic or Sexual Violence or Stalking

At the end of the day, it is always better to play it safe than sorry. When designing how you rent and advertise your vacancies, consult a lawyer to ensure you are legally in the right when it comes to national, state, and city-wide laws.

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Nicole Seidner

Cole Seidner is a copywriter here at the CIC Blog. She holds a degree in Writing from Savannah College of Art and Design with a focus in creative nonfiction. Her free time is spent taking pictures of her dogs or reading deep dive analysis on movies that she hasn’t seen.

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