Fair housing laws play a vital role in society by ensuring that there are equal housing opportunities for all individuals. It was established in the US to eliminate cases of discrimination and give all citizens the opportunity to find proper housing. But how do these laws apply to multifamily properties? As a multifamily property manager, you need to understand your fair housing obligations when dealing with tenants. This is what we will be discussing in this blog.
What Are Fair Housing Laws?
Fair housing laws are federal, state, and local regulations that are designed to protect individuals from housing discrimination based on protected classes. These include race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, and disability.
The federal Fair Housing Act, which was passed in 1968 has expanded over time, providing the foundation for fair housing at the national level. This important civil rights legislation was only brought into place after years of housing discrimination, especially based on race, severely limiting the opportunities available for minorities. The fair housing law aims to right these wrongs and create more egalitarian communities giving everyone the same housing rights.
Do Fair Housing Laws Apply To Multifamily?
To answer this question directly, yes, the Fair Housing laws apply to all types of properties regardless of whether they are multifamily or any other. It doesn’t matter the number of units or the type of ownership (e.g., whether it is a rental or condominium). The protections and obligations that are dictated by fair housing laws will apply to all tenants in multifamily housing environments.
What Is Included In Fair Housing Laws?
- Protection against discrimination
Fair housing laws prohibit property owners from engaging in discriminatory practices based on people’s characteristics. This not only applies to rejecting rental applications, but also discriminatory actions in advertising, lease agreements, pricing, and eviction processes. As a multifamily property owner, you must treat all individuals equally and refrain from all forms of discriminatory behavior.
- Reasonable Accommodations and Changes
All property owners have an obligation to provide reasonable accommodations and make necessary modifications for individuals with disabilities. Depending on the state of the property, this may include making reasonable changes to policies and practices to ensure equal access and opportunity for individuals with disabilities. Owners will also likely have to make some physical structure changes to make movement easier for these tenants. Examples include installing wheelchair ramps or allowing service animals.
- Accessibility Requirements
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) and other applicable federal laws have outlined accessibility requirements that all rental properties must abide by. The FHA was amended in 1988 to include specific design and construction requirements to aid people with disabilities. These requirements apply to certain properties, primarily those built after March 1991. This means that any multifamily properties that were constructed or substantially modified after this date must comply with the new accessibility standards. These requirements ensure that features such as accessible entrances, doorways, and common areas are available to accommodate these individuals.
- Ethical Marketing and Advertising
Property owners have to fulfill their obligation to only advertise their properties in a non-discriminatory manner. This involves refraining from using language or images that imply discrimination by indicating a preference or exclusion based on the protected classes. National origin or familial status is not an indicator of who is eligible for housing, so affirmative marketing efforts are necessary to encourage misrepresented groups to apply for housing.
Other discriminatory practices that need to be avoided
Aside from the broad practices mentioned above, there are certain practices that all property owners should refrain from doing. Here are a few examples:
- Segregating or preventing tenants from occupying certain floors, buildings, or areas of the property based on race, disability, or other protected groups.
- Avoiding blanket policies or practices that may appear neutral but have a discriminatory effect on protected classes such as requiring a minimum income threshold for tenants. For example, some properties may require an income of 3 times the monthly rent. While this policy may seem like it is financially prudent for the property, it can exclude racial minorities, families with children, and other protected classes who statistically tend to have lower income levels
- Making it so that only a select number of tenants get full access to amenities, facilities, services, and other privileges.
- Avoid denying, evicting, or failing to renew a lease based on a tenant’s protected traits.
- Not taking measures to proactively prevent and address any harassment or discrimination between tenants. There need to be policies in place to prevent this from happening, and all tenants must be informed about these policies before they sign the agreement.
Legal Consequences of Fair Housing Laws
If a property is not able to comply with fair housing laws, there will most likely be legal consequences involved, which include fines, penalties, and civil lawsuits. Property owners need to familiarize themselves with fair housing regulations and stay up-to-date with any changes or updates to these laws. If there is a fair housing complaint made against your property, then you can expect a swift blowback from the local government and even the community.
Fair housing laws unequivocally apply to all properties ensuring equal housing opportunities. As a multifamily property owner, you must uphold these obligations and abide by these laws to avoid any legal implications. If required, you could even consult with legal professionals who specialize in fair housing to provide you with valuable guidance and assistance in navigating these complex legal requirements.