As a landlord, you may not discriminate against potential or existing tenants. Each state has specific guidelines for landlords to prevent discrimination and protect the interests of tenants.
The Fair Housing Act also makes it clear that as a landlord, you cannot deny housing to or evict a tenant on the basis of race, religion, gender, ethnic background, disability, or the fact that they have children.
While each state is different, there are some guidelines you must follow no matter where your rental property is located. There are also situations you can avoid if you are aware of particular implications for landlords. Here are a few examples that illustrate what a landlord can and cannot do under current antidiscrimination laws.
1. You cannot claim that a unit is unavailable to prevent an applicant from renting it. For example, if you have an applicant of a particular ethnic background and you would prefer not to rent to them, you cannot claim that a unit is no longer available for rent in an attempt to deny them the property.
2. You cannot ask someone to pay more rent than you currently charge other tenants to exclude the applicant. In this instance, some landlords attempt to exclude undesirable tenants by setting the rental amount at an arbitrary price that the applicants cannot afford.
3. You must accommodate the disabled. You must consider applicants with physical disabilities on the same basis as you would anyone else, even if this means you’ll have to modify your property. Some states now require landlords to furnish handicapped-accessible entryways, doors, and access even if there are no disabled tenants living in the building. You may also be required to provide handicapped-accessible parking spaces for tenants with physical disabilities.
4. You cannot set different terms for different tenants. As a landlord, you are not allowed to favor one group of tenants over another. Your lease agreement should not be modified for certain tenants, such as adding different rules, asking for higher security deposits, or changing any area of the agreement for a particular tenant or group of tenants.
5. You cannot evict a tenant for discriminatory reasons. This is the most difficult area for landlords to avoid. Some problem tenants will falsely claim discrimination, or threaten to sue a landlord who tries to evict them from the premises. To avoid such situations, it is crucial to document exactly why you are evicting a tenant, such as habitually late rental payments, excessive damage to a property, or constant violation of the rules set down in the initial rental agreement.
6. You cannot indicate preference in your advertising. For example, if you are advertising your rental dwelling, you cannot state that you prefer one ethnicity, race, religion, or gender over another. Some landlords attempt to covertly indicate their preferences, which is also not acceptable.
7. Your application should not ask questions about race, religion, or ethnicity. Even if you do not plan to take these factors into account when renting your property, this could be used against you by a rejected applicant.
The vast majority of landlords have no intention of discriminating against their applicants or tenants. Thoroughly documenting any action you decide to take is the best way to ensure that you will not be held liable for discrimination.