Is It Okay to Show Limited Availability of Units Online?

Q: Is there a potential fair housing problem with advertising online that we have, say, two available units at our property, when in fact we have, say, five units? If someone comes to the property, we will show all five units. But we want to show online a more limited supply to create a sense of urgency and demand. Also, some units may be under renovation and we’re not exactly sure when they’ll be available.

Put another way, can we block available units from being displayed online, when we will show these units to people who come to the property in person?

A: This is a great question, because anyone who has ever worked in sales before understands that certain tactics are used to encourage a potential customer to check out or buy a product, says Leslie Tucker, partner, Williams Edelstein Tucker, P.C., in Peachtree Corners, Ga. The difference with the scenario you've offered is that instead of creating a sense of urgency and encouraging a prospect to visit the property or apply, presenting a more limited availability may actually have a discouraging effect on some prospects, since they may assume that you'll fill up before they can take a tour, apply, etc., she says. If certain advertising methods are viewed by a certain demographic more than others (not necessarily intentionally), then this is where fair housing can come into play.

A prospect or advocacy group could make the argument that a specific protected category was discouraged from applying due to the inaccurate information, even if that was not at all the intent, Tucker cautions. Additionally, some people with disabilities may rely exclusively on the information and photos found online, since physically visiting the property may be burdensome, she says.

If you choose to use this sales tactic in your advertising, Tucker says it would be a good idea to include an invitation to contact the property so that everyone who sees the ad will still feel encouraged to inquire and/or apply: "Please call, email, or visit us for updated availability today."