Passed by Congress in 1968, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits all forms of discrimination regarding housing matters. Housing related matters include selling, renting, and lending.
At the federal level, the FHA prohibits discrimination based on 7 protected classes. That is, race, color, disability, nationality, familial status, religion, and sex.
In the state of Washington, gender identity, sexual orientation, and marital status are also protected. Furthermore, there may be more protections at the city or county level. The presence of a Section 8 voucher, for example, is protected in Vancouver, Kirkland, Bellevue, Seattle, and Redmond.
Who enforces the Fair Housing Act?
The government body charged with enforcing the FHA is the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD does so in two ways.
• Using testers. HUD can hire someone to pose as a potential renter or home buyer to see whether a landlord or home seller is using discriminatory practices.
• Investigating claims on discrimination. Persons who feel they have been discriminated upon can file a discrimination claim with the HUD. The HUD will then conduct their investigations to ascertain whether the claims have any merit or not.
Are there any groups that are exempt from the Fair Housing Act?
Yes. Some groups are exempt from following the Act. The groups include:
• Single-family homes that are sold or rented without the use of brokering services.
• Members-only private organizations or clubs.
• Owner-occupied homes with units not less than 4.
How does the FHA combat discrimination in Housing?
The FHA has a 3-part approach when it comes to combating housing discrimination against protected classes.
1. Mortgage and Insurance Discrimination
Illegal discrimination takes many forms and can be obvious or not. An obvious discrimination would be a real estate agent who refuses to show homes to colored people. Or a landlord who refuses to rent to parents with young children.
But discrimination in mortgage and insurance matters isn’t always easy to spot. According to the FHA, mortgage and insurance professionals are prohibited from engaging in any of the following.
• Setting different terms and/or conditions on a loan depending on who the applicant is. For instance, regarding rates, points, and fees.
• Artificially lowering appraisals on properties in certain areas.
• Scrutinizing loan applications for applicants differently based on race or any other protected class.
• Denying certain applicants mortgages or insurances.
2. Discrimination in Housing Sales
Sellers and agents are prohibited from running ads or making statements that are discriminatory. It’d be discriminative, for instance, for a seller to publish a classified ad that locks out families with young children.
In addition, the following are illegal discrimination practices that are prohibited by the FHA.
• Refusing to do any negotiations with potential buyers.
• Steering a prospective buyer to a racially segregated area.
• Engaging in tactics meant to dissuade a potential home buyer from viewing the property.
• Failing to inform a potential buyer about a listing that is available at their price range and preferred location.
• Exaggerating or lying about sales terms for the purpose of discouraging a clique of potential buyers.
3. Discrimination in Renting
The following are discriminatory landlording activities.
• Failing to provide a potential tenant with a rental application form.
• Failing to give responses to inquiries from potential tenants.
• Setting different rent amounts and/or security deposits for potential tenants based on a protected class.
• Stating falsely that to a minority applicant that a unit that was available has already been rented out.
• Running an advertisement that contains discriminative language. For example, stating: “Neighborhood is ideal for White folks only,” “Ideal for a quiet couple,” “Suitable for a Christian family,” “Not soundproofed,” “Ideal for professionals.”
• Falsifying allegations to force long-term tenants to leave their apartments.
• Prohibiting a disabled tenant from making reasonable modification to a property at their own expense.
• Asking to see a disabled person’s medical records to ascertain their condition.
• Applying and enforcing rental policies that are inconsistent based on tenant’s protected classes.
How can a Washington landlord avoid discrimination accusations?
As a landlord, there are 3 chief ways in which you can avoid housing discrimination. The 3 ways are as follows:
1. In Rental Advertising
When crafting your rental ad, make sure the language is free from any discriminatory statement. In other words, ensure the ad doesn’t suggest that certain tenants won’t be accepted based on a protected class.
Statements that may be deemed as discriminatory include:
• “No children are allowed.” This is a discriminatory statement based on familial status.
• “Quiet, Christian neighborhood.” A potential tenant who isn’t a Christian would view this as discriminative towards them.
• “Suitable for a female.” Sex/gender is a protected characteristic under Washington Fair Housing rules.
• “White folks would be preferred.” This statement is discriminatory against non-whites.
Generally, when crafting a rental ad, use the ad to describe the property rather the tenant you’re looking for. This way, you’ll be able to avoid controversial words like female, male, children, mature, married, single and so on.
2. During Tenant Screening
You need to keep in mind certain things when screening tenants. One of these things is ensuring your screening policies are uniform. From the initial contact to the lease signing stage, you should make sure you only solicit information necessary to determine qualifications.
Avoid asking potential tenants questions such as:
• How many children do you have?
• Are you disabled? Or is that a service dog?
• Where are you originally from?
• Are you sure you’ll be comfortable living in this White-dominated neighborhood?
• Are you a Christian or a Muslim?
3. During the leasing
Discrimination is not only confined to the tenant qualifying stage. It can also happen during the day-to-day management of your Washington property. To avoid potential claims:
• Handle all tenant maintenance requests within a reasonable timeframe.
• Set uniform terms and conditions.
• If you can, shield your tenants from discrimination, including harassment, from fellow tenants.
• Pay attention to what you say.
Still have a question? If so, Windermere Property Management can help. We are a professional property management company that is based on the principles of honesty, transparency, and devotion to our clients’ interests.