State and federal laws require nondiscrimination and equal access to housing for all people. There can’t be any discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, age, familial status, children, marital status, veteran status or membership in the armed services, the receiving of public assistance, or physical or mental disability.
Ignorance of Fair Housing laws can lead to some serious legal consequences. And as the saying goes, “ignorance of the law is no excuse at all”. Many who violate the Fair Housing laws haven’t really taken the time to familiarize themselves with federal regulations or their own state’s laws.
Virtually all state governments have a Housing Department of some kind which will include a web site detailing the Fair Housing laws that are enforced where you do business as a property manager. In the state I live in I was able to find a “housing discrimination hotline” by going to the “Government” section of our local telephone book. There I easily discovered all the state housing department’s listings and phone numbers.
One property manager I interviewed recently said that she called the city and county agency that deals with housing and rental property regulations. Without identifying herself as a property manager, she simply told the receptionist that she wanted to familiarize herself with the rules and regulations regarding Fair Housing. After being put on hold a few minutes she was able to talk with a knowledgeable official who guided her to the various web sites that answered all her questions.
Many states provide training and even technical assistance on the legal obligations and rights of public and assisted housing providers under federal and state fair housing laws. This training is often free and includes the following topics: Reasonable Accommodation, Screening and Tenant Selection, Fair Housing
In many major cities these trainings are offered throughout the year and are open to anyone. If you can’t find a conveniently located one there are online sites such as Fair Housing Helper which offer this information at a reasonable cost.
Another good resource for Fair Housing information is the user-friendly U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) website. Their “portal” web site page will lead you to many explanations and details.
Rumor has it that there may be increases in Fair Housing law enforcement in the weeks and months ahead. You won’t be caught off guard if you know these laws and are familiar with any annual changes.
One last suggestion; if you don’t have the time or inclination to keep updated, assign someone in your office to do the research and to summarize the essential information for you. An “ounce of prevention” is often the best antidote to most legal snafus.