As a landlord in Orlando, it’s important to know that the key to a successful rental business is treating tenants fairly. Now, fairness comes in different forms – but playing favorites – even unintentionally, is always a bad idea.
What is the Fair Housing Act?
Passed into law in 1968, the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on certain protected classes. The fair housing protected classes are color, religion, race, national origin, gender, or familial status.
Despite its passing, discrimination in housing is still rife in modern-day America. Last year alone saw about 25,000 housing discrimination complaints filed, according to the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA).
It’s also worth noting that these are only reported incidents. NFHA estimates there could be more.
Half a century later, many Americans still don’t know what steps to take when discriminated upon. Or simply don’t realize that they have been discriminated against.
5 Things to Know About the Federal Fair Housing Act
The last thing you want as a landlord is fighting a discrimination lawsuit in court. Not only can such a case be draining financially, but it can also negatively affect your landlord reputation.
1. Be Precise with Your Tenant Screening
As an Orlando landlord, you probably know how important tenant screening is. It can make the difference between a successful rental business and a failing one.
Tenant screening involves a lot of time and dedication. In fact, it’s for this reason that many property owners leave it in the hands of realtors or property managers.
But if you decide to do it yourself, then make sure the process is, among other things, non-discriminative. You want to avoid doing the following things:
- Running background checks only on some potential tenants.
For the process to qualify as fair, you’ll need to treat all prospective tenants equally. In other words, you cannot perform one test on one tenant and not perform it on another one.
- Asking the applicant whether they have kids or are married.
Familial status is a protected class under the Fair Housing Act. You could, however, ask the tenant how many occupants there will be.
- Asking the renter about their race.
As innocent as it may look, it’s a violation of the Fair Housing Act.
- Asking the renter whether they have a service dog.
The prospective renter may take this to mean that you don’t rent to people with disability and disability is a protected class.
The Federal Fair Housing Act gives disabled people significant protection when renting living spaces.
2. Reasonably Accommodate People with Disabilities
First and foremost, you are not allowed to ask prospective tenants whether they are ill or disabled. On top of that, you cannot ask potential tenants to see their medical records when they seek to rent your property.
Once they move in, the fair housing laws also requires you to make reasonable modifications to the property to accommodate them. These will be at your own expense.
Usually, people with disabilities are those that:
- Have a mental or physical disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities. The following are some examples:
- Intellectual disabilities
- HIV, AIDS, and AIDS-related complex
- Mental illness
- Chronic alcoholism
- Visual impairments
- Hearing impairments
- Mobility impairments
- Have a history of disability
3. Do Research on Additional Fair Housing Protected Classes
Nationally, there are seven protected classes under the Federal Fair Housing Act. They include:
- National origin
In addition, Florida, Fla. Stat. §§ 760.20-760.60 also makes it illegal for any landlord to discriminate based on disability and familial status.
4. Advertise Your Rentals the Right Way
Landlords have the right to choose which renter they want to stay in their property. Be that as it may, the process needs to be fair for all applicants.
The Fair Housing Act stipulates that it’s unlawful to print or publish discriminatory advertisements for the sale or rental of housing units.
You want to avoid ads that:
- Show favoritism for the race of the desired tenant.
- Describe the religion of the current occupants of the property. So stating “Nice, Christian neighborhood” is illegal.
- Describe the national origin of current occupants. For example, “Predominantly Jewish neighborhood” or “Mostly Asian residents.”
- Discourage families without children. For instance, “Perfect for singles or couples” or “Nice, quiet, mature neighborhood.”
- State preference for one sex over another, such as “No young women” or “Males preferred.”
5. Be Detailed When Evicting Your Tenants
It’s not uncommon for landlords to disagree with their renters in Orlando, FL. Not every disagreement, however, is grounds for eviction. Each state has laws that describe what you can evict a renter for.
In Florida, you can evict a tenant under the following circumstances.
- Lease Violation: For example, failing to pay their rent.
- Property Damage: If the tenant causes excessive property damage, then you may evict them.
- Criminal Activity: Illegal or drug-related activity is a serious crime.
While an eviction can sometimes be necessary, it’s always best used as a last resort. And when you have to do it, always make sure you follow the law to the last letter.
Evicting a tenant as a retaliatory act is against the provisions of the Fair Housing Act. You shouldn’t operate the relationship with your tenant under the code “An eye for an eye.”
Examples of retaliatory acts include:
- Increasing your tenant’s rent after they complain to a building inspector.
- Threatening or harassing your renter after they have exercised their legal rights. For instance, after they have notified local authorities in Orlando for potential code violations.
- Not renewing your renter’s lease without any valid reason.
- Making your tenant’s stay unpleasant. For instance, by doing things like blocking access to a parking lot or refusing to make repairs to the tenant’s unit.
As an Orlando landlord, these are the 5 essential things that you need to know about the Fair Housing Act. Needless to say, treating all tenants equally and fairly is key to a successful rental business. And that goes hand-in-hand with following all the fair housing laws and regulations.