By law, real estate agents and landlords are required to treat their tenants with fairness and equality, especially during the tenant qualifying process. If they fail to do so, they risk running into complications and ruining their reputation.
That said, complaints about the Fair Housing Act are common. According to a report compiled by the National Fair Housing Alliance, there were approximately 28,843 housing discrimination complaints in 2017.
It also goes without saying that ignorance of the law is never an excuse. So, whether the discrimination is done intentionally or not, the Fair Housing Act will still apply.
In this article, you’re going to learn everything you need to know about the Fair Housing Act in Florida. Whether you own properties in Navarre, Gulf Breeze, or elsewhere in Florida, it’s crucial you understand these laws.
So, without further ado, let’s discuss the Fair Housing Act, learn about its protected classes and review how to avoid violating it in the future.
What Exactly is the Fair Housing Act?
The Fair Housing Act was enacted in 1968 in order to ensure fair practices throughout the U.S. The Act guards certain classes from discrimination in the sale or renting of housing and makes housing available to all, no matter their sex, color, race, familial status, disability, religion, or national origin.
Besides the Fair Housing Act, prospective tenants and homebuyers are further protected by other laws such as the Equal Opportunity Act, the 14th Amendment, and the Disabilities Act.
Who Enforces the Fair Housing Act?
The organization responsible for enforcing the provisions of the Fair Housing Act is the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
They enforce the provisions of the Act in two main ways:
- They use undercover HUD employees to pose as prospective renters.
- They investigate claims regarding discrimination. Prospective tenants who feel they have been discriminated upon may present their case to the HUD. The HUD will then investigate the claims and decide whether further legal actions are required or not.
Who Does the Fair Housing Act Protect?
At the Federal level, the Fair Housing Act protects home buyers and rental applicants against discrimination based on 7 classes. The 7 classes are: sex, color, race, religion, national origin, disability, and familial status.
Additionally, individual states and local laws may also provide further protection to buyers and renters belonging to other classes. In the state of Florida, for example, the following are some other protected classes:
- Marital status
- Genetic information
- Citizenship status
- Sickle cell trait
How do Landlords, Property Managers, and Real Estate Agents Violate the Fair Housing Act?
The main goal of the Fair Housing Act is to sensitize all professionals working in the real estate business about the need to treat their clients fairly and equally. The following are some examples of how you, as a property owner, may unintentionally violate the Fair Housing Act.
- Using different terms and conditions to qualify buyers or renters in the sale or renting of a home. For example, if you refuse to rent to a family with children, or charge a family a higher deposit than other tenants, this is considered a violation of the Act. Since familial status is a protected class, this situation would be considered discriminatory.
- Lying that a home is unavailable for sale or making it unavailable altogether. Suppose that a person with a protected characteristic responds to a rental ad they had seen about a vacant rental unit, but you decide to rent it out to a person who doesn’t have a protected characteristic. This situation would be deemed as discriminatory against the person with the protected characteristic.
- Refusing to rent to a disabled person. You would be guilty of discrimination if you refuse to rent your unit to a blind person because they have a service dog. Disability is a protected class.
- Advertising or making statements that indicate preference or limitation to a protected class. Stating, for instance, that “singles are preferred.”
- Terminating a tenancy for discriminatory reasons. It would also be discriminatory for you to terminate a tenancy for reasons to do with a tenant’s protected class.
Does the Fair Housing Act have Some Exemptions?
There are certain situations that are exempted by the Fair Housing Act. Some include:
- Properties that qualify as senior housing. These are properties for the elderly who are aged above 55 years. Properties that participate in a state, federal, and local senior housing program are exempt from the provisions of the FHA.
- If not for commercial purposes, the FHA permits private clubs to give preference or limit occupancy to club members.
- Religious organizations that lease apartments for non-commercial activities may also be exempt. The exemption is, however, limited to religion. The organization cannot discriminate based on race, color, or national origin.
Are there Penalties Regarding the Fair Housing Violations?
Yes. Violations of the Fair Housing Act can have huge financial ramifications. According to a recent announcement by the HUD, financial penalties for violating the FHA are as follows:
- First Violation: For first-time offenders, the maximum penalty is $19,787.
- Second Violation: For two-time offenders, the maximum penalty is $49,467.
- Third+ Violation: For repeat offenders, the maximum penalty is $98,935 each.
How can one Avoid Violations to the FHA?
As a property owner, discriminating against your tenants is one of the last things you want to do. With that in mind, make sure to avoid statements, whether spoken or written, that touch on a protected class. Additionally, make sure to be consistent in your selection criteria as well.
At REMAX Infinity Property Management, we are well-versed with the state of Florida laws and can help you with your Fair Housing Act worries. In addition, as a full-service property management company, we can also help you in other management areas as well. For instance, finding and screening tenants, maintaining your unit, collecting rent, and more. Give us a call TODAY!