According to a recent report on fair housing trends, there were nearly 30,000 discrimination complaints filed in the United States in 2012, an increase of nearly 5% from 2011. Here are five things you should know to help avoid being the target of one of those complaints.
1. Be Careful How You Advertise
In your advertising, you can focus on amenities, attributes of your property, and location, but not on the type of tenant you want. Saying “great for young couples” can be considered discriminatory towards older renters, as an example. You shouldn’t use words like “safe” or “exclusive” since that implies that you restrict to whom you rent. Use the fair housing logo or include a statement of non-discrimination at the end of each ad.
2. Be Precise in Your Tenant Screening
Tenant screening is an area that frequently causes complaints. Have a written policy for the necessary criteria to rent your unit such as employment history/income, credit standards, etc. Outline your application process and include a statement that you adhere to all applicable fair housing laws. Your application shouldn’t include questions about physical disabilities, age, race, or ethnicity. You may, though, include questions about prior evictions, money judgments, or bankruptcy filings. You may also ask why someone is leaving his or her current unit. Keep good records of every applicant and inquiry.
3. Be Consistent with Your Apartment Rules
It’s acceptable to have mandatory apartment rules that are basic and non-discriminatory for all tenants. They should be written and uniformly enforced to all residents. Statements like “children should not be rowdy in the hallways” are unacceptable, but changing the reference to “residents and guests” is fine. Keep detailed records of any violations of the rules – time, date, and type of violation; how you became aware of the infraction and the actions you took to enforce the rule.
4. Be Detailed in Your Eviction Process
Under fair housing laws, tenants can be evicted for legitimate reasons such as non-payment of rent. For other causes be sure there has been a serious violation of the lease or a history of eviction of others for similar actions. Detailed files should contain a record of all complaints by neighbors and what has been done to respond to each. HUD historically has examined the following documentation in these situations:
- Warning letters/eviction notices
- Written complaints by third parties
- Written logs kept by management
- Police records
5. Be Thorough with Employee Training
Document a written policy for employees regarding sexual and other types of harassment. All new employees must undergo training sessions that should include all memos that reference policies on how to comply with fair housing laws and the consequences for violating them. Provide all employees with a written copy of a non-discrimination policy. Have employees sign an agreement that says termination will result from violation of any fair housing law.
Being aware of and diligently following fair housing statutes is the best way to avoid having to defend a claim that could be lodged against you.