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Understanding Fair Housing Laws When Placing Tenants

Updated: Sep 6, 2023


As a landlord or property manager, it is your responsibility to ensure that you comply with fair housing laws when placing tenants in your rental properties. Fair housing laws are in place to protect individuals from discrimination based on their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or familial status. Violating these laws can result in legal consequences, financial penalties, and damage to your reputation. In this blog post, we will delve into the importance of understanding and adhering to fair housing laws to create a just and inclusive housing environment.


1. What Are Fair Housing Laws?

Fair housing laws, primarily the Fair Housing Act in the United States, prohibit discrimination in housing-related activities. These laws ensure that individuals have equal access to housing opportunities regardless of their background, characteristics, or circumstances. The key protected classes under the Fair Housing Act include:

  • Race

  • Color

  • Religion

  • Sex

  • National origin

  • Disability

  • Familial status (having children under 18 or being pregnant)

2. Equal Treatment for All Applicants

When screening and placing tenants, it's crucial to treat all applicants equally. You must avoid any discriminatory practices, such as:

  • Refusing to rent to someone based on their membership in a protected class.

  • Setting different terms and conditions, such as rent rates or security deposits, based on an applicant's protected status.

  • Providing false information about the availability of a rental unit to discourage certain individuals from applying.

  • Steering applicants to specific neighborhoods or units based on their protected characteristics.

3. Reasonable Accommodations and Modifications

Fair housing laws also require landlords to provide reasonable accommodations and modifications for tenants with disabilities. A reasonable accommodation is a change in rules, policies, or procedures that allows a disabled individual equal access to housing, such as allowing a service animal. A reasonable modification is a physical change to the property, like installing a wheelchair ramp.


4. Familial Status Protections

It's essential to be aware of familial status protections, which prevent discrimination against families with children. You cannot deny housing to families with children or establish rules that discriminate against them. However, you can have reasonable occupancy limits based on factors like square footage or local ordinances.


5. Advertising and Marketing Practices

Even your advertising and marketing materials must adhere to fair housing laws. Avoid using language or images that exclude or discourage individuals from applying based on their protected characteristics. For example, phrases like "no kids" or "preferred religion" are clear violations.


6. Fair Housing Training and Education

To ensure compliance with fair housing laws, consider providing fair housing training to yourself and your staff. Staying informed about current regulations and case law is crucial to avoiding accidental violations.


7. Documentation and Consistency

When making tenant placement decisions, maintain thorough records of your criteria and the selection process. Consistency in your procedures can help demonstrate that you are treating all applicants fairly and without discrimination.


Understanding and adhering to fair housing laws is not just a legal obligation but a moral one as well. Providing equal housing opportunities to everyone, regardless of their background or characteristics, is fundamental to creating inclusive and diverse communities. By following these guidelines and staying informed about fair housing regulations, you can protect your legal interests, maintain a positive reputation, and contribute to a more equitable housing market for all.


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