What to know about fair housing before posting a listing

(For landlords)

This guide is intended to build awareness about the importance of building fair and legal practices when advertising a rental, collecting applications, selecting new renters, and during the lease. This high-level overview should not be the sole resource you consult for issues related to fair housing. Laws change often and can vary depending on the location of your rental, so we recommend you take measures to research and educate yourself on local laws, and seek legal counsel for specific guidance.

Housing discrimination is illegal, even if it isn’t intentional. Nationwide, it’s illegal to discriminate against applicants on the basis of any of the following characteristics:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Sex
  • Familial status
  • Disability

State and local protections vary, but can include:

  • Age
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity or expression
  • Citizenship
  • Military status
  • Source of income
  • Criminal history

Fair housing complaints happen more often that you might think. The Fair Housing Alliance reported more than 560k people have filed complaints of housing discrimination across the U.S. since 1996.

Developing responsible fair housing practices begins before you talk to your first applicant. When you write an advertisement for your property, focus on the perks and amenities of the rental, and avoid language that shows favoritism to any type of renter. Don’t use phrases like “this home would be perfect for…mature professionals, young couples, etc.” This language implicitly excludes potential applicants who don’t fall into that description. Instead, be upfront about the objective criteria applicants must meet to qualify to rent the home.

Don’t use subjective criteria or your “gut feeling” to evaluate leads or applicants. Setting and documenting specific qualification guidelines for applicants before you even list your property helps establish consistency when you review applicants. Sharing that information with prospective applicants on your listing helps save both of your time. Examples include a minimum income requirement, expected credit score, pet restrictions (not including service animals), and/or the expectation that applicants must pass a reference check.

  • If you think you might make exceptions to your criteria, write out this policy beforehand. For instance, for international renters or young renters without credit history, you may stipulate your policy for an alternate way to ensure timely rent payments
  • This extends beyond written applications and includes questions you ask applicants on the phone and in person at showings.

Fair Housing Laws apply to how you talk to potential applicants and show your properties. It’s important to standardize your showing process, as it’s illegal to make assumptions about which property an applicant will prefer. That means if you have multiple available rentals, let your applicant know about all of the options, so they can  make the choice about what’s best for them.

Fair Housing Laws also apply once renters move in. That means policies you set should be the same for all of your renters. For instance, you can’t prohibit children from certain activities, by saying things like  “Children may not ride bicycles on the sidewalk.” It’s illegal to treat households with children differently than households without children. The rule would be acceptable if re-phrased this way: “No riding bicycles on the sidewalk.”

Educate yourself on how to continue treating applicants fairly when dealing with maintenance requests, property rules, legal lease violations (late or missing payments, damaging the property, evictions, etc.). You should also be aware of extra protections for renters with disabilities. The Fair Housing Act requires that you make reasonable improvements and exceptions for renters with disabilities. According to National Fair Housing Alliance’s 2018 Fair Housing Trends report, in 2017, 57% of fair housing reports were on the basis of disability.

Learn more

The National Fair Housing Alliance has free resources about the history of Fair Housing Laws, and how to build best practices: https://nationalfairhousing.org/

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) compiled an overview of Fair Housing requirements here: https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/fair_housing_act_overview

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