Not all housing discrimination is intentional. Landlords may not know fair housing laws or may accidentally ask a question or make a statement that violates the law. But those mistakes can lead to charges and costly fines.
To protect yourself, make sure you understand what constitutes discrimination and the seven classes, or groups, that are protected by federal anti-discrimination laws. Also learn any additional classes protected by your local laws. Under federal laws, it is illegal to choose your tenants based on race, gender, color, religion, disability, nationality or familial status.
For example, familial status protection means you can’t refuse to rent to tenants because they have children under 18. Beyond outright refusal to rent, another example of discrimination is saying the rental isn't in a family-friendly neighborhood or making other statements attempting to persuade them to rent elsewhere. Under gender protections, you cannot say you’ll only accept female tenants or stipulate that roommates must be a certain gender.
However, there is a difference between protected classes and preference. You can’t say you won’t rent to males. However, you can say that you won’t rent to a tenant who has a pet. You can accept cats but not dogs. However, while you don't have to rent to tenants with pets, you can't refuse to rent to someone with a service animal – that is discrimination.
You can, and should, decide whether to rent to a tenant based on their credit, rental history, income and references. Some landlords are hesitant to deny someone with bad credit if they also happen to fall into one of the protected classes. But as long as you can show a valid, non-discriminatory reason for your decision, and you have the same standards for all applicants, it shouldn't be a problem.
When advertising your rental, you also need to be careful about how you word your listing. You can’t sound like you are trying to attract tenants of a particular group. For example, saying that you’re across the street from a synagogue implies you’re trying to attract tenants of that religion. Instead, describe the surrounding community – parks, schools, shopping.
At Gordon James Realty, we have a qualifying checklist. We put all potential tenants on an even playing field. We also take the stress of choosing a tenant out of your hands. We look at credit, income and current employment. Everyone is treated fairly and we work to make sure we find the best tenant for your property.
For more information on what a property management company can do for you, contact Gordon James Realty.