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My Fair Landlord: What Rental Property Owners Should Know about the Fair Housing Act

My Fair Landlord: What Rental Property Owners Should Know about the Fair Housing Act


The school year is nearly complete and summer is almost upon us, which means that many landlords or investment property owners may be preparing their rental units for new tenants. Whether you are a first-time landlord, who is just getting ready to take on that new title, or you own several rental properties, there are a few things that you need to know about being fair while you search for that perfect new tenant.

In fact, the federal Fair Housing Act actually dictates several parts of a landlord’s tenant-search process and the landlord-tenant relationship. By federal law, landlords are not allowed to discriminate against potential tenants based on several criteria that include race, color, national origin, religion, sex, family status or handicap.

Knowing may be half of the battle; but, what aspects of the landlord-tenant relationship do those discriminatory factors apply to? According to the Fair Housing Act, they apply to several:

Advertising: When advertising a vacancy in one of their rental units, either online, in print or in any other capacity, landlords are not permitted to make any sort of statement that might suggest a limitation or preference based on any of the discriminatory factors listed in the Fair Housing Act.

Occupancy: According to the Fair Housing Act, this guideline actually covers several factors of the landlord-tenant relationship. Based on the listed discriminatory factors, a landlord may not claim that a rental unit is unavailable when it is readily available. Landlords also are unable to alter their selection standards or refuse to rent their properties to members of certain groups; again, see the discriminatory factors listed above.

In accordance with federal guidelines, once their properties are occupied, landlords must provide the same housing services to their tenants. They also may not deny that their tenants make reasonable modifications to their units at their own expense, particularly when the tenant agrees to restore the unit to its original condition upon moving out.

Rental Policies: The Fair Housing Act also dictates several parts of a landlord’s rental policies. Once a landlord sets occupancy terms for a rental unit, they may not alter those terms for some tenants and keep them for others. They also must keep consistent tenant policies regarding late rental payments.

Oppositely, a landlord cannot refuse to make reasonable rules, policies or service accommodations for a disabled person to use their rental properties.

Termination or Eviction: Though this may seem like a no-brainer, according to the federal Fair Housing Act, a landlord is unable to terminate or evict a tenant based on any of the discriminatory factors listed within the Act.

So, landlords, now that you are armed with either a newfound knowledge of the Fair Housing Act or have been briefly refreshed, you may actually find it surprising to know that the federal law does not apply to all landlords. There are instances where rental properties and their tenants are not covered by federal fair housing laws.

For landlords who own an apartment building with four or less rental units or who own three or less single-family dwellings and choose not to use advertising or a real estate broker to lease their properties, the federal Fair Housing Act does not apply.

There is also an exemption to the Fair Housing Act when it comes to housing that is designed for senior citizens. That exemption includes communities where all tenants are over the age of 62. It also includes “55 and older” housing communities where 80% of occupied rentals are inhabited by at least one person who is 55 or older

Landlords should also know that even where the Fair Housing Act or other federal laws do not apply, state housing laws may; so, it is always best to check on state or local regulations if you are unsure of what laws apply to you.

Investment properties can be a great source of primary or supplemental income, but along with all of those certain perks come various responsibilities. Of course, landlord tasks can include everything from management and maintenance to mediating some personnel issues. Because of the federal Fair Housing Act and other regulations, landlord responsibilities also include some legal issues.

But, as the saying goes, with the federal Fair Housing Act, all’s fair in love and rental properties!

For more information about the federal Fair Housing Act and other landlord regulations: