Fair Housing FAQs: Answers to Common Compliance Questions

In honor of Fair Housing Month, the April 2012 Fair Housing Coach tackles some of the frequently asked questions (FAQs) about fair housing law in conventional multifamily housing communities. Here are seven of the 17 FAQs from the April issue, available on our homepage:

Who is protected under federal fair housing law? The federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits discrimination in housing because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, or disability.

Are there any additional protected classes? Yes, depending on where a community is located. Many state or and local governments have expanded fair housing protections to marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, source of income, age, ancestry, military status, and other characteristics.

Can someone who isn’t a member of a protected class file a fair housing complaint? Yes, anyone injured by a violation of fair housing law may file a claim. The law recognizes claims by prospects, applicants, and residents who suffer discrimination because they are members of a protected class—or because their household members, relatives, friends, or guests are members of a protected class.

Who may be held liable for fair housing violations? Community owners, property managers, individual employees, and outside contractors—along with real estate professionals and others—may be held liable for housing discrimination under federal fair housing law.

What conduct is banned under fair housing law? Among other things, fair housing law bans certain rental practices if based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status, including:
• Refusing to rent or negotiate for housing.
• Setting different terms, conditions, or privileges for the rental of housing, such as different lease provisions related to rental charges, security deposits, and other lease terms.
• Threatening, coercing, intimidating, or interfering with anyone exercising a fair housing right or assisting others who exercise that right.

How does fair housing law apply to advertising? Under the FHA, it’s unlawful to make, print, or publish any notice, statement, or advertisement related to the rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on a protected characteristic.

How can communities minimize problems when dealing with troublesome tenants? Little can be done to prevent frivolous complaints, but communities have the means to expose the truth—and to protect themselves from liability under fair housing law. The key is to document the nature of the resident’s misdeeds—including records of late or missing payments, complaints from neighbors, and ensuing investigations—and good faith efforts to resolve the problem short of eviction.

For the rest of the 17 FAQs, along with a Quiz based on them, see “Fair Housing FAQs: Answering Your Questions About Fair Housing Compliance,” on our homepage.