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December 19, 2023

Fair Housing Compliance Checklist: How to Stay Compliant

Daniel Berlind
CEO

From the start of the screening process to their last day on your property, your tenants should feel safe and welcome in their homes. In order to make them feel that way, you must also make sure that you’re in compliance with fair housing laws and regulations. Failure to comply can lead to serious legal and financial consequences, not to mention the potential harm to tenants who are discriminated against.

From advertising and leasing practices to maintenance and repairs, every aspect of your business must adhere to fair housing laws. In this blog post, we’ll provide a comprehensive checklist of fair housing compliance requirements to help you ensure that your property management business is operating legally, responsibly, and ethically.

What do Fair Housing Laws cover?

The Fair Housing Act covers most housing in the United States. In specific circumstances, exceptions may include:

  • Owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units
  • Single-family housing sold or rented without the use of a broker
  • Housing operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members

These laws protect people on the basis of:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National Origin
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Familial status (including children under the age of 18 living with
  • parents or legal custodians, pregnant women, and people securing
  • custody of children under 18)
  • Disability

State and local laws may include provisions around:

  • Age
  • Citizenship
  • Source of income (including rental assistance programs, such as Section 8 housing vouchers)
  • Criminal history

Now that you know who these laws apply to and what attributes are protected, let’s review which actions they apply to. When it comes to rental housing, you are not allowed to:

  • Refuse to rent
  • Make housing unavailable
  • Set different parameters or requirements
  • Provide different services or facilities
  • Persuade, or try to persuade homeowners to rent dwellings by suggesting that people of a particular race, etc. have moved or are about to move into the neighborhood

Criminal Background Checks

In an age of electronic background checks, asking for a criminal record is standard practice in the industry. But statistics show people of color are arrested at a rate disproportionate to their share of the population in the U.S. Applying blanket prohibitions against applicants with any criminal history could land you in hot water and lead to a discrimination claim.

The Fair Housing Center recommends reviewing individuals on a case‐by‐case basis to evaluate the nature and severity of their crimes. The length of time that has passed since that crime was committed should also be considered. Make a determination based on facts and evidence, and not a perceived threat.

Some states don’t allow criminal history reports in a screening process. Be sure to review your local and state laws and proceed with caution.

Occupancy Limits and Families

Excluding properties that are designated explicitly for seniors, it’s illegal to deny housing to families based on the number of children they have. However, in order to maintain health and safety compliance, you can apply the person-to-bedroom ratio at a property. For example, California Fair Housing rules permit two people per bedroom plus one in the living area.

Disability Accommodations

Many Fair Housing violations are a result of landlords not making reasonable accommodations for people with physical or mental disabilities. A cardinal rule in this area is not to ignore a request for reasonable accommodation.

A reasonable accommodation could include providing ramps on the property or permitting their service animal to live at a property that doesn’t allow pets. As a reminder, service animals are working animals and any pet restrictions do not apply to them.

Emotional Support Animals

Service animals are different than emotional support animals, which brings us to another perpetual Fair Housing gray area. While ESAs are allowed as a reasonable accommodation under the law, they’re also an area where renters often try to get an unjustified accommodation for an otherwise traditional pet. Property managers shouldn’t ask the tenant about the condition the pet helps address, but they can request legitimate documentation from a third party that certifies the need for the ESA.

Real Estate Market Retaliation

Landlords and property managers also open themselves to liability for retaliation against a tenant who makes a Fair Housing claim, extending to areas not generally associated with discrimination.

For example, withholding service or repairs to a resident who’s filed a complaint could be considered harassment, even if it was simply a case of a maintenance request that fell through the cracks. This is why it’s even more important to communicate with your tenant while maintenance requests are being fulfilled.

Compliance Checklist

A fair housing compliance checklist is an essential tool for property managers to ensure that they operate within the bounds of federal and state fair housing laws. Here’s a comprehensive list of items that should be on your fair housing compliance checklist:

Advertising

  • Include fair housing logos and statements in all advertising materials
  • Use inclusive language and images that reflect the diversity of prospective tenants
  • Avoid discriminatory language or images that could indicate a preference or limitation based on protected classes

Leasing Policies

  • Use consistent screening criteria that are applied equally to all applicants
  • Avoid requiring additional deposits or fees based on protected classes
  • Do not refuse rental applications based on protected classes
  • Do not steer tenants to specific properties or units based on protected classes

Tenant Screening

  • Screen all applicants using objective, standardized criteria
  • Do not base screening decisions on protected classes
  • Keep accurate records of screening decisions, including reasons for denial or acceptance

Reasonable Accommodations

  • Provide reasonable accommodations to tenants with disabilities, such as accessible parking or modifications to a unit
  • It is important to respond promptly and respectfully to requests for accommodations. Here are some tips for handling these requests:
    • Document the request from the tenant, including any proof or medical documentation that may be necessary.
    • Reach out to the tenant as soon as possible after receiving a request and provide a timeline for when they can expect a response.
    • Ask questions if more information or clarification is needed regarding the request.
    • Consider all requests in an objective and unbiased way, regardless of protected class status.
    • Be willing to negotiate with the tenant in order to find an appropriate solution that works for both parties.

Maintenance and Repairs

  • Respond promptly and professionally to maintenance and repair requests from all tenants
  • Do not delay or deny service based on protected classes
  • Ensure that all common areas, amenities, and facilities are accessible to all tenants

Training and Education

  • Provide regular training to staff on fair housing laws and regulations
  • Review and update policies and procedures as needed to ensure compliance
  • Stay up-to-date on changes to fair housing laws and regulations

To Sum Up…

By following these guidelines, staying informed about fair housing laws, and prioritizing inclusion and diversity, you can create a thriving and successful property management business that operates ethically and responsibly.