What is the Fair Housing Act and How Do I Comply?

by Steffi Cook | Updated: Apr 24, 2020

Landlords and others who rent or sell homes and apartments need to be aware of the Fair Housing Act requirements. If you don’t understand all facets of the law, you could unknowingly violate it and face substantial fines.

Read on to understand what landlords, home sellers, real estate agents and others need to know to stay in compliance.

What’s the history of the Fair Housing Act?

The Fair Housing Act was signed by President Lyndon Johnson as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Prior to 1968, Congress considered fair housing legislation but failed to pass it. But after Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, Johnson pushed to have the bill approved. Additionally, several organizations lobbied Congress to pass the Fair Housing Act. This was due to African-American and Hispanic veterans of the Vietnam War often being denied the opportunity to buy or rent homes in certain areas because of their race or national origin.

Since the Fair Housing Act was passed, it’s been celebrated and publicized in April, designated as Fair Housing Month. Additionally, the Americans With Disabilities Act and state and local laws in some municipalities have helped strengthen the Fair Housing Act.

If a person believes he or she has been discriminated against under fair housing rules, a complaint may be filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

Who is protected under the Fair Housing Act?

Fair housing rules prevent discrimination and ensure equal treatment and access when someone is renting or buying a home, renting an apartment, getting a mortgage or engaging in other activities related to finding a place to live. The Fair Housing Act protects consumers from discrimination based on the following:

  • Race or color
  • National origin
  • Sex
  • Familial status – such as discriminating against families with children
  • Disability

What are examples of actions that are illegal under the Fair Housing Act?

The following are a few activities that have been made illegal by the Fair Housing Act:

  • Falsely telling certain housing applicants that no housing is available
  • Steering people of a certain race to specific housing areas
  • Sexually harassing tenants
  • Charging women or minorities more rent or a higher home sales price than men or other races
  • Refusing to rent to families with children or placing them in a single section of an apartment complex
  • Discriminating when it comes to eviction policies
  • Applying different rental criteria to different applicants
  • Limiting the use of common facilities to certain tenants

Related: Make Sure You Follow Local Laws About Renting Your Property

What happens if the Fair Housing Act is violated?

If a potential or actual tenant files a complaint against you for violating fair housing rules, you may face substantial fines. A first-time violator may be fined a maximum civil penalty of almost $20,000, with repeat offenders facing more substantial fines (over $98,000) if they violate the act two or more times in a specified time span.

Additionally, you may also be forced to pay actual damages as well as attorney’s fees and costs.

What best practices can be used to ensure you’re in compliance with the Fair Housing Act?

In some cases, you can run afoul of fair housing rules by simply not being careful. The following are some best practices to follow as a landlord to make sure you’re not violating the Fair Housing Act:

  • Focus on the property – not the sellers, buyers or tenants – when you’re running an advertisement or making statements about the property
  • Apply the same policies such as background checks and credit checks to every applicant
  • Ask every applicant the same questions
  • Give the same information and rental options to everyone – don’t try to steer them to a particular section or area
  • Ensure that your staff is trained to follow fair housing rules

By knowing the ins and outs of the Fair Housing Act, you’ll be able to avoid violating the law. Always treat each potential tenant with respect and provide equal information and opportunities to all applicants.

The information contained in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal or financial advice. Readers are encouraged to seek professional financial or legal advice as they may deem it necessary.

Categories: Landlords

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