Any good landlord is going to avoid unlawfully discriminating against their tenants or prospective tenants. However, even well-intentioned property owners can find themselves dealing with a discrimination complaint if not careful. This post is devoted to highlighting some common mistakes owners can accidentally make that could lead to charges for discrimination.
Language in Advertisements
Be careful what you put in your rental listings. Property owners have gotten in trouble for using discriminatory language, such as “not great for families,” when listing details about their home. Under the federal Fair Housing Act and Fair Housing Amendments Act, owners are prohibited from discriminating against tenants based on:
- familial status, which includes being pregnant or having children (minus specific housing designated to seniors)
- ethnic background or origin
- physical or mental disabilities
Keep these criteria in mind when writing your postings. Even if you believe your property is in a location not suited for children or families, you can’t say that you are only looking for renters without children.
Inquiring About Physical or Mental Health Status
Going back to the discrimination protections mentioned in the previous section, you can’t ask a renter about their mental or physical health diagnoses and/or make a decision to refuse them based on those criteria. Even simple asking about a health diagnosis can leave you with a potentially hefty fine.
Refusal Based on Limited English Skills
If a renter applying to live on your property has limited English language skills, you can’t refuse their application based on that factor alone. Property owners who have expressed concern about the contract being understood because of the language barrier have found themselves with large penalties for violation. So, proceed with caution.
Even if you are keeping the best interest of the renters in mind—such as the safety of a child if your property is in an area with conditions not suited to kids—it’s important to exercise caution, as rental property owner’s concerns are often not considered if the discrimination is reported. It’s best to strictly follow the guidelines for housing discrimination compliance overall. And if your property does truly pose a risk to children, seek legal guidance before taking any large actions. Your property management company can likely assist with finding an experienced legal counsel to help.