April is National Fair Housing Month in the United States, a time to reflect on the strides made in ensuring equal access to housing for all Americans, and to renew our commitment to continuing that progress. The history of fair housing in America is a long and complicated one, marked by struggle, sacrifice, and progress.
A Brief History of the FHA
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s brought about a renewed focus on the issue of housing discrimination. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Housing and Urban Development Act, which required recipients of federal housing funds to promote fair housing practices. However, it was not until the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 that the Fair Housing Act was finally passed into law.
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. The Act also established the Fair Housing Administration, which is responsible for enforcing the law and investigating claims of discrimination.
Importance of the FHA
Despite the passage of the Fair Housing Act, discrimination in housing still exists today. There are also many pitfalls landlords and property owners need to avoid. Atrium Management plays an important role in ensuring that our owners’ properties are compliant with the Fair Housing Act and that all residents are treated fairly and equally.
Violating the Fair Housing Act can have some serious consequences. First let’s take a look at some examples of housing discrimination:
- Making a home unavailable for sale or lying that it is unavailable. For example, a person in a protected class answers a rental ad for an apartment but is told by the landlord that the apartment is already rented when this is not true. The landlord then rents the apartment to a different applicant who does not belong to the protected class. This is a no-no.
- Denying housing to a member of a protected class. A landlord cannot refuse to rent an apartment to a blind man solely because he has a service dog, or to a woman with a mental disability solely because of her condition.
- Setting forth different terms and conditions for the sale or renting of a home. For instance, a property manager refuses to rent to a family with children, or he charges the family a higher security deposit. Another example could be a property manager who tells a family with children that they can only rent in certain buildings of the complex.
These are clear examples of housing discrimination that may seem obvious, but running afoul of these guidelines is no joke. There are penalties for FHA violations that become very expensive, not to mention the reputation damage that can be done. Penalties generally work as follows:
- 1st Violation – Maximum civil penalty of $19,787
- 2nd Violation – Maximum civil penalty of $49,467
- 3rd+ Violation – Maximum civil penalty of $98,935 each
How to Avoid FHA Violations
The best and easiest way to stay on the FHA’s good side is to work with a property management company you can trust. Because it’s our business to list and lease and maintain properties every day, over and over, we have policies and procedures in place to avoid FHA violations. Here are some best practices for avoiding FHA violations:
- Review every rental application the same, uniform way to ensure that there’s no discrimination based on race, skin color, sex, nationality, or religion
- Ensure applicants are rejected based on other criteria not covered by the Fair Housing Act (poor credit history, insufficient income, inability to pay rent in the past, and other information found in the credit history report)
- Have a consistent rental application screening process
- Screen all applicants using the same criteria
- Carefully word any ads, property descriptions, and rental application (i.e. avoid phrases such as “no kids” or “professionals only”)
- Be clear about rental guidelines and make sure to include a link to these in your ad
- Be consistent in presenting rental criteria to all applicants equally
- Be sensitive to the needs of disabled applicants and residents
- Be aware of requirements for service animals and emotional support animals — they are not pets
- Avoid denying parking accommodations for disabled applicants and residents — always consult your lawyer in such instances
- Avoid familial status questions, including anything regarding children or pregnancy
- Seek legal advice when creating and applying screening criteria
And these are just some of the things to keep in mind when trying to avoid FHA violations. The best way to completely eliminate all concern and worry about these violations is to hire and work with a property manager you can trust. Letting someone handle these things for you will free up a considerable amount of time and can save owners from heartache and financial penalties.
If you have further questions about how we help our owners remain FHA compliant, email or call us anytime. And if you or someone you know is looking for a property management company you can trust, we’re all ears. Here to help!