Advertising is likely what attracts most tenants to your community; however, the Fair Housing Act has strict guidelines concerning what is and isn’t appropriate for you to show, state, or even imply within any real estate advertisement.

Whether you realize it or not, you’re likely advertising your property somehow every day. Understanding what the US Department of Housing of Urban Development considers advertising and what types are acceptable under the Fair Housing Act is essential to avoid violating ad laws unintentionally. According to the 2013 Fair Housing Trends Report, more than 28,500 Fair Housing violation complaints were filed in the previous year – a stat no property management company wants to be associated with.

What is Considered Advertising Under the Fair Housing Act?

Under the Act, real estate advertising encompasses more than billboards, commercials or newspaper and online advertisements, it also includes flyers, brochures, banners, leaflets, signs, posters, deeds, applications, pictures, and even property-based roommate ads. In fact, just about anything staff members verbally say or imply to prospective renters in person, writing, or by phone can be considered advertising.

Understanding the Fair Housing Act’s Advertising Restrictions

The Fair Housing Act strictly prohibits the printing, making, or publishing of ads that state a preference, discrimination, or limitation based on color, race, sex, religion, handicap, national origin, or familial status. In everyday terms, ads can focus on the location, attributes, and amenities of a property (using the right terms!) but not on the nature of desirable tenants.

Avoiding Discriminatory Buzz Words in Real Estate Ads

Saying “ideal for young couples” or “perfect for families” can seem discriminatory towards older or single applicants. Using words like “safe,” “limited,” or “exclusive” might imply that you control to whom you rent, and HUD considers these as violations of the FHA. Clearly, saying “no wheelchairs” isn’t permissible, but statements in rental advertisements like “walk-in closets” and “jogging trails” are fine.

How often do you see “no children,” “no pets,” and “no smoking” among advertisements or within contractual documents? Children restrictions have been long ago outlawed within most housing arrangements, but no pets and no smoking requests are A-OK to make. Pertaining to religious restrictions under the Fair Housing Act, putting up an ad for a community Christmas Party or displaying images of Santa don’t violate the Act, but advertising for a “Christian Roommate” within the community’s common areas does.

Have confidence in your advertisement’s compliance with FHA regulations by avoiding “buzz” words commonly associated with discriminatory actions of the past, particularly those based upon race, religion, gender, disabilities, or familial status. More specifics about advertising and the FHA’s advertising guidelines can be explored in an updated 1995 memorandum issued by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, and we’ll explore a few below.

Examples of FHA Advertising Violations and HUD Recommendations

Race, Age, Familial Status – You shoot a commercial or take photos of human models enjoying various onsite amenities; however, those images feature predominantly young, affluent Caucasian couples. This could be considered discouraging to the elderly, singles, or other races.

Advice: HUD recommends that property managers utilize a variety of human models from minority and majority groups of varying ages to assure compliance with advertising guidelines.

Physical Handicaps – HUD has dispelled the myth that statements including “walk-up, walk-in, walk to bus stop” are violations. However, it is unlawful to suggest “a more suitable bottom floor” to physically disabled person or to suggestively steer them to a “community better equipped” for their condition.

Advice: Consider including handicapped persons in your advertising campaign, and use slogans and words that indicate your property’s fair housing compliance policies. If you are wheelchair friendly and boast wheelchair ramps, say so in your ads, and HUD will view them with approval.

Take a final, cost-free step to show your compliance with the Fair Housing Act by displaying HUD’s fair housing or “Equal Housing Opportunity” logo on all real estate advertisements, and include the standard non-discrimination disclaimer.