Fair Housing Violations Landlords Should Steer Clear Of

The Fair Housing Act exists to eliminate discrimination when it comes to housing accessibility. It applies to housing providers, including landlords and property managers. What fair housing violations should you be aware of? Let’s find out.


What is the Fair Housing Act?

The Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) protects people from discrimination regarding the sale, rental, or financing of housing. Lenders, sellers, landlords, and other housing-related service providers cannot discriminate against a person based on the following characteristics:

  • National Origin
  • Color
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Familial Status
  • Sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity

Some states have versions of the Fair Housing Act in addition to the federal law. State versions might include additional protections or elaborate on certain provisions.


Common Fair Housing Violations to Watch Out For

Landlords often set rules for tenants and applicants to prevent property damage and foster a peaceful living environment. Some of these include pet rules and tenant screening requirements. While these seem harmless policies, landlords may accidentally commit fair housing violations while implementing them. Here are some examples of housing discrimination to avoid.


1. Property Advertisement

What is an example of a fair housing violation? One of the most common examples involves property advertisement. Every landlord wants an effective ad to market their rental property. However, they have to be careful about the type of ad they put out. Certain ads might inadvertently discriminate against people of different classes.

For example, an ad might say, “This is a Christian home.” Even if Christian people make up a majority of the locals, the ad discriminates against others with a different religion. Another example would be an ad stating the property is only open to English-speaking individuals. While the landlord might not be good at speaking other languages, they should still be open to people of different national origins.


2. Discriminatory Tenant Screening Questions

Can a landlord refuse to rent to someone based on tenant screening results? Yes, they can — but only for the right reasons. For example, landlords are generally allowed to reject applicants with multiple evictions. They may also deny someone who does not have a good enough credit score.

On the other hand, landlords must craft screening questions that cannot be mistaken for discrimination. Both the application form and interview should be free of discriminatory remarks. For example, the landlord might ask whether an applicant is retiring soon. Age is a protected class under the FHA, so the landlord should avoid asking this question.

Landlords typically do not intentionally commit fair housing violations. Often, their questions arise from genuine curiosity or hospitality. For instance, a landlord might want a friendly conversation and ask about an upcoming wedding. They might also ask how many children a person has. Though they seem innocent, questions like these may be considered discrimination as they touch on familial status.


3. Refusing Reasonable Accommodations

People with disabilities are protected under the FHA. Thus, it is considered a Fair Housing Act violation if a landlord refuses an applicant because of their service animal. Inconvenient as it may be, landlords must make reasonable accommodations for service animals and people with disabilities. Otherwise, they could be held liable for discrimination.


4. Denying Tenancy Based on Certain Characteristics

Fair Housing Law violations naturally include discrimination against tenants and applicants based on specific characteristics. They cannot refuse to rent or lie about housing availability for someone because of their protected class. Additionally, because of those characteristics, they cannot provide different facilities, services, terms, rent prices, or privileges.

These also apply to evictions. Landlords cannot evict a tenant or their guest simply because they might not be white or straight. As a rule of thumb, landlords must treat everyone equally regardless of these characteristics. The only factors to consider should be those relevant to the tenancy, such as employment, income, eviction, or criminal history.


5. Neighborhood, Building, or Section Assignments

Landlords may own multiple properties within a neighborhood or building. While they can generally do what they want with the property, they cannot assign people to specific units or sections of a neighborhood because of their race, gender, and other protected characteristics. For instance, landlords cannot assign tenants to one side of the building because of their race.


6. Retaliation for FHA Complaint or Investigation

Tenants and applicants may report fair housing violations or assist with fair housing investigations. When this happens, landlords may be tempted to retaliate against those tenants and applicants. They might delay maintenance or impose stricter rules against the tenant. However, this is a big no-no because it is also considered a violation.


7. Maintenance Request Bias

Landlords cannot discriminate against maintenance requests based on certain characteristics. For example, a landlord might have certain prejudices against tenants with pets. Denying a maintenance request or delaying it because of their bias is illegal. Likewise, they cannot show favoritism toward people of certain races, national origins, religions, or other characteristics.


Penalties for Fair Housing Violations

Penalties for Fair Housing ViolationsHUD housing violations carry civil penalties. First-time offenders will incur a maximum $21,663 penalty. As you might expect, succeeding Fair Housing Act violation penalties are steeper. If someone violates the FHA again within five years, the maximum penalty they might pay is $54,157. Those with more than two violations within seven years can expect to pay a maximum fee of $108,315. On top of these fines, landlords may need to pay the following penalties:

  • Punitive damages if the intent is discovered to be willful or malicious
  • Compensatory damages for the tenant, including out-of-pocket expenses they incur to look for alternative housing
  • Non-economic damages awarded for mental anguish, psychological injuries, and humiliation

In addition, the court may issue injunctions if needed to stop irreparable and immediate harm. The HUD also keeps these charges publicly available, which might harm the landlord’s reputation and prospects.


Avoid Fair Housing Violations

Landlords have a right to set rules and deny applicants who do not meet their criteria. However, they must be careful not to make any fair housing violations. As a landlord, you must review federal and state fair housing laws to ensure you remain compliant.

Do you need professional help with FHA compliance? Hire a property management company today through our online directory!



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