You Need to Know your Fair Housing Acts to Survive the Industry

Last Updated: February 11, 2020By

By Nicole Seidner, Contemporary Information Corporation (CIC)

Now is the time to discuss everyone’s favorite subject, fair housing law. Such a fun topic – it’s right up there with favorite sports team, latest blockbusting movies, and that funny thing your dog did.  Fine, talking law and restrictions is barely fun for the lawyers. That doesn’t mean the conversation can or should be avoided.

One of the most dangerous things that a rental property owner or multifamily professional can do is accidentally (or intentionally) cross swords with the Fair Housing Act (FHA). One of the most defining laws of the industry, the FHA was created to ensure every person that applies for a place to live has an equal chance of getting it. In no way was the FHA the first of its kind, as the Rumford Fair Housing Act was writ just a handful of years before, and similar laws struggled their way towards change since the 1800s. However, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 was greatly different because of its success in changing the game of renting.

The Law Created for Everyone

While the law was created in the height of the Civil Rights Movement, it covered seven types of discrimination; (i) Race; (ii) Color; (iii) National Origin; (iv) Religion; (v) Sex; (vi) Familial Status; and vi) Disability.  That means it is illegal to refuse rent or selling to those listed, use different criteria to qualify, impose separate rules or prices, and other adjusted behaviors. Any kind of harassment, refusal to provide, perform, or repair for a tenant based on these kinds of Other-isms is a dangerous game in the rental housing industry.

Additional Protected Classes All Around

Race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, and family status (such as pregnancy and children) are protected on a national basis, but that doesn’t hold as limited truth across the country. For example, in California, the list continues with these additional classes: Source of Income; Sexual Orientation; Marital Status; Age; Arbitrary Characteristics; Gender Identity and Gender Expression; and Others.

The surfing state protects a wide range of people and seeks to allow everyone, no matter what, available housing. Examples of discrimination based on ‘arbitrary characteristics’ range between suggesting a tenant may not fit in the local community to treating them well on the phone but not in person. It can be an odd choice of hair color or tattoos.

Checking Local Law

For non-Californians, it is always advised to check on local law. With the wide range of laws that change all over the states, asking a lawyer about local law and potential changes to those laws can help rental property owners protect themselves. Staying informed and adjusting renting policies with regards to these laws is the best way to stay one step ahead of getting in trouble.

For example, in Maine, they don’t protect those with ‘arbitrary characteristics’ but they do protect other additional classes. Aside from the national classes, the State of Maine protects: Ancestry; Sexual Orientation; Receipt of Public Assistance.  New York City has its own human rights laws, with protected classes including: Age; Alienage or Citizenship Status; Colorl Creed / Religion / Race; Disability; Family Status; Gender / Gender Identity; Lawful Occupation; Lawful Source of Income; Marital / Partnership Status; National Origin; Partnership Status; Race; Sexual Orientation; Immigration Status; Military Service; Pregnancy; Presence of Children; and Status as Victim of Domestic or Sexual Violence or Stalking.  At the end of the day, it is always better to play it safe than sorry. When designing how you rent and advertise your vacancies, consult a lawyer to ensure you are legally in the right when it comes to national, state, and city-wide laws.

Nicole Seidner is a writer that specializes in creative nonfiction. She focuses in research-based writings with the intent to educate those in the rental housing industry. Her goal is to ensure (while factually correct) her writing can entertain and intrigue readers at the same time.   Learn more at:


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