Whether you’re a landlord or a property manager, it is always important to be familiar with the Fair Housing Act if you own or operate a rental property. While these laws may seem complex and confusing, understanding them is a crucial aspect of your search for a new tenant. 

To help you get started, we have put together a guide so you can gain a more comprehensive understanding of these laws and better abide by local fair housing rules.

What Are Fair Housing Laws?

Fair housing laws are a set of rules that make sure everyone has an equal opportunity to access housing in the US. These laws apply to both renters and buyers of residential properties. 

Which Agency Enforces Fair Housing Law?

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) oversees fair housing in the United States. Their responsibilities include handling fair housing disputes, answering common questions about fair housing laws, and more. 

What Kinds of Discrimination Does the Fair Housing Act Protect Against?

The Federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on the following classes when it comes to finding a place to live:

1. Race

Discriminating against a tenant on the basis of race is strictly prohibited in the Fair Housing Act. This means that anything from asking about a prospective tenant’s race on an application to discarding an application based on race is illegal. 

Exterior of three houses against a blue sky

2. Religion

According to the Fair Housing Act, it is illegal to select a tenant for your rental home based on their religion. This means it is also prohibited to include these preferences in your listings.

3. National Origin

When you are searching for a new tenant to occupy your rental home, you cannot show a preference based on the tenant’s national origin. This includes any discrimination based on the language they speak, since that is a large component of an individual’s national origin. 

3. Sex

The Fair Housing Act states that choosing a tenant based on sex is prohibited. This includes suggesting that one unit in a rental complex is safer for a female, or attempting to place a male tenant in a unit that you think could be more dangerous. 

4. Familial Status

A tenant’s familial status cannot be used as a reason to avoid choosing them to live in your rental property. For example, you cannot refuse to rent to a couple with two small children simply because you don’t want kids in your rental property. This protection also extends to pregnant women.

5. Disability

As a landlord, you may not discriminate against tenants based on disability. Additionally, landlords are required to provide disabled tenants with reasonable accommodations or modifications in the home. 

Interior of a modern kitchen

Do Different States Have Additional Fair Housing Regulations? 

While each and every landlord must abide by the federal fair housing laws, it is also crucial to keep your local anti-discrimination laws in mind. Depending on which city or state you’re operating in, it may be prohibited to show any preferential treatment to tenants based on the following factors:

  • Gender identity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Citizenship
  • Age (this can include the elderly or younger individuals)
  • Criminal background
  • Source of income
  • Marital status

Before you begin to look for a new tenant to occupy your rental unit, make sure to familiarize yourself with any and all fair housing laws that are active in your state. 

Are There Any Exemptions to the Fair Housing Act?

While these laws are generally pretty strict, there are some exceptions.

  • Housing designed for individuals who are 55 and older: If you own housing that is specifically designated for senior citizens, you will be allowed to only rent to tenants who are above 55 years of age. 
  • Religious organizations: Organizations are permitted to only rent to those who share their religious practices. 
  • Private clubs: These organizations are permitted to refuse housing to those who are not a member of their club. 
  • Local law occupancy standards: If your local laws state that there is a maximum number of tenants allowed to occupy one rental unit, then you are allowed to limit the number of tenants accepted into the home. 
  • Owner-occupied housing: If the owner of the rental property lives in one of the property’s units, they are exempt from fair housing laws and may choose a new tenant based on their own preferences.
Real estate agent talking to a couple

What Does Housing Discrimination Look Like?

When it comes to housing discrimination, there are two main kinds that occur. These are referred to as intentional discrimination and unintentional discrimination. 

Intentional discrimination is when a landlord or property manager treats a tenant negatively on the basis of one of the previously mentioned protected classes, such as race or sex. 

For example, if a landlord were to reject an applicant because they were pregnant, or if they were to charge a tenant a higher cost of rent due to a disability, that would be considered intentional discrimination. 

On the other hand, discrimination can happen even when a rental property owner is not intending to, resulting in unintentional discrimination. For example, stating in an ad that a rental property is great for a married couple that doesn’t have children is considered discrimination.

How Can I Avoid Discrimination as a Landlord?

Discrimination can happen in any part of the rental process, and it’s important to be aware of how it can present so you can avoid it. 

For example, in the advertisement process, make sure to avoid using discriminatory language when describing what kind of tenant you are looking for. While you are free to list aspects such as financial requirements or pet policies, you cannot include phrases such as “no children allowed”, or “English speakers only.”

Another example is the pricing of your rental property. Your pricing must be the same for each and every applicant. For example, it is illegal to increase the price of your rental property for families with children or tenants with disabilities. 

This also applies to your tenant screening process. Every applicant must go through the same screening process, and you cannot ask any questions that are related to their protected class. 

The Fair Housing Act: Bottom Line

At the end of the day, in order to avoid discrimination, it is crucial to treat any and all tenants and applicants with respect. This will only benefit you and your tenants in the long run!