As a landlord, the Fair Housing Act can affect you in more ways than you think!
If you’re just getting started or don’t know much about the important piece of this legislation, you may be putting yourself and your rental investment at risk. It's one thing to know basic landlord-tenant laws, but you can't stop there. Tenant discrimination is a serious crime in Alabama, as it is elsewhere in the country.
Prospective or current tenants can always claim you were discriminatory even when that was not your intention. What’s more, lawful discrimination allegations aren’t covered under general liability insurance.
In today’s article, Southern Realm Property Management will cover everything you need to know about the Alabama Fair Housing Act.
Brief History and Purpose of the Fair Housing Act
In the mid-1800s, unfairness in housing-related matters was rife. And as years went by, pressure to changes the state of affairs begun mounting.
As a matter of fact, it was the same pressure that led to the creation of the Civil Rights movement that was famous back in the 1960s. The Fair Housing Act was first passed in 1968, shortly after Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated.
Originally, the act prohibited discrimination based on religion, color, race, and national origin. It was only in 1974 that discrimination based on sex was added. Then, 14 years later, the act was amended to include discrimination based on disability and familial status.
Ultimately, the Fair Housing Act served, and still serves to this day, as protection for those looking to safely rent a home, and with the same chances of signing a lease as anyone else.
Regardless of a landlord’s opinion, even if the bias is unintentional or they are misunderstood by the prospective tenant, the legal standards and its consequences remain.
What Does the Fair Housing Act Mean to Alabama Landlords?
Basically, it means that it’s unlawful to discriminate against your tenants on the basis of the 7 protected characteristics mentioned above. This means that you cannot prevent your tenant from doing any of the following based on a protected class:
- View or rent your rental apartment
- Make your vacant rental unavailable for renting
- Limit facilities or services of a dwelling
- Fail or delay performance of maintenance or repairs
- Harass your tenant
- Witholding the security deposit without legal reasons
- Evict a tenant or their guest based on their protected characteristics
- Set different criteria for different tenants
- Impose different rental charges
- Make rental advertisements or notices/statements that indicate a preference/limitation to a particular class of people
- Set different terms, conditions, or privileges for the rental of a dwelling
Which Government Agency Enforces the Fair Housing Act?
The government agency tasked with the responsibility of enforcing the Fair Housing Act is the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The department enforces the Fair Housing Act in two ways:
- Using testers. HUD can hire fair housing testers to pose as renters to see if a landlord uses discriminatory practices. That’s why, as a landlord, it’s important to be mindful of what you say to prospective tenants. This should be regardless of whether you say it over the phone, in person, or in rental ads
- Investigating discrimination claims. Tenants who feel they have been discriminated upon can file a discrimination claim with the HUD. HUD will then conduct its investigations and determine whether the claims have merit or not
Where violations have been established, remedies of the FHA may include the award of compensatory damages to discrimination victims, including awards of punitive damages to victims, orders for comprehensive corrective action, and award of compensatory damages.
How Can Alabama Landlords Avoid Discrimination Accusations?
As a landlord, you should create a standardized process that doesn’t discriminate against tenants and follow them consistently. Treating all tenants – both current and prospective – equally is key to avoiding Fair Housing violations. The following are some of the things you can do:
- Create procedures for how to show vacant units and follow them exactly. Create a checklist of the items you’ll go over with each prospective tenant interested in renting your property. Then, ensure you use the same checklist with everyone
- Set up a rental application standard criteria list that ensures you accept reliable tenants. Be as thorough in your tenant screening process as possible. Check each prospective tenant’s eviction records, personal references, employment, and rental history. You’ll also want to verify all the information each prospective tenant has given. Follow the same criteria for every rental applicant and don’t allow biases or any unrelated information to affect your decision
- Focus on advertising your apartment’s features and not the person you’re renting to. Avoid phrases that describe the kind of tenant you’re looking for, such as “Ideal for Singles,” “Perfect for a Christian Family,” “Perfect for a Single Professional,” or “Suitable for a Young Family.” Essentially, these statements mean that you prefer a certain type of tenant over others, and that counts as discrimination
- Treat tenants equally and fairly on all matters. Besides having fair screening procedures, you’ll also want to treat all current tenants equally. For example, when it comes to repairs, you’ll want to ensure you do them in a consistent manner. Have guidelines for handling them and execute them without any bias or favor
There you have it. Everything you need to know about the Fair Housing Act. Inarguably, the most important takeaway from this is to treat both prospective and current tenants with respect and fairness.
If you’re worried about the finer details of the Fair Housing Act or are overwhelmed by everything you need to remember, consider hiring a property management company like Southern Realm Property Management! We make sure all our processes strictly adhere to the Fair Housing Act to avoid any legal conflicts.
Disclaimer: This post is for educational purposes only and may be outdated by the time of your reading. If you need further help, please speak with a legal professional or an experienced property management company. Southern Realm is a reliable property management company in Montgomery. Get in touch to learn more!