Every landlord will have to advertise their available properties to acquire new tenants. However, not all landlords realize that advertising a property takes more than just writing an effective rental listing. More often than not, landlords get in legal trouble for using discriminatory words and symbols in their ads.
When you’re advertising your property, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind to ensure that you’re complying with federal laws.
What is the Fair Housing Act?
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) was enacted in 1968 to ensure fairness and equality for every individual who applies for housing. Primarily, it aims to prevent discriminatory practices such as delaying services based on a tenant’s gender, race, or nationality.
The act seeks to provide all Americans the equal opportunity to find a place to live, without facing prejudice for factors that are beyond their control including race, religion, disability, familial status, nationality, source of income, criminal history, and so on.
Who Does the Fair Housing Act Protect?
Certain groups of people are protected under the Fair Housing Act. Collectively, they are known as the FHA’s “Protected Class”. As a landlord, you must be familiar with the characteristics that are categorized as a protected class under the law.
The FHA strongly condemns discrimination on seven main protected classes:
- National Origin
- Familial Status
Familial status refers to a household that has at least one child who is below eighteen years of age. It also protects prospective tenants who are expecting children or planning on adopting a child.
Under the FHA, disability refers specifically to individuals who have physical and mental impairments, as well as chronic alcoholism, among others. Landlords are required to offer these tenants reasonable accommodations, such as allowing a tenant to keep a guide dog despite the property’s no-pets rule and installing safety grips in bathrooms for the elderly.
Keep in mind that there may be other protected classes that are not covered by the FHA. Your state may prohibit other forms of discrimination, such as marital status, sexual orientation, and source of income. As a landlord, you should regularly research your state’s laws to ensure that you aren’t discriminating against other protected classes.
You may even consider speaking with a luxury property management company or an attorney who specializes in landlord-tenant laws. They will be able to offer advice that is tailored to your state’s specific laws, helping you treat prospective tenants fairly and equally.
What are Examples of Discrimination Under the Fair Housing Act?
The FHA acts as a guidepost for landlords, property managers, and real estate agents on how to avoid discrimination in housing. Below are a few common examples of discrimination in the rental housing market:
- Placing advertisements that explicitly say “No Children” and then refusing to rent the property to a mother of two.
- Including statements such as “Christian Neighborhood” and “English-Speaking Natives Only” are considered discriminatory and unlawful.
Can Landlords Specify the Tenants That They Want?
All landlords have the right to lease the property to tenants who will commit to the terms of their lease agreement, such as maintaining low noise levels, paying the rent on time, and keeping the property in excellent condition. These expectations are non-discriminatory and generally apply to all tenants. However, if you go beyond those expectations, you may find yourself in legal trouble.
For example, if your listing includes the statement “perfect for singles”, then families with young children would feel unwelcome. Similarly, if you write “not suitable for handicapped persons”, you may be suggesting that the property excludes a certain protected class.
How Can Landlords Avoid Discrimination in Advertisements?
When advertising your rental, there are certain descriptions that you must refrain from using. These may be perceived as carrying discriminatory connotations, such as:
- Bachelor Pad
- Singles Only
- Not Suitable for Seniors
- Ideal for Couples
- Perfect for Families
- No Children Welcome
- Integrated Neighborhood
- Catholics Only
- Caucasian Roommate
- Hispanic Residence
Discrimination is not limited to words. Certain symbols, images, and visuals can indicate that a landlord or real estate agent wants to conduct business only with select groups, including:
- Pride flags
- Religious images such as the Star of David and the Latin Cross
- Gender symbols
- National flags
Can Photos and Videos Be Considered Discriminatory?
Diversity and inclusion should always be present in all of your advertising materials — including photos and videos. Be careful about the lifestyle that you are trying to depict. Avoid painting a picture of a property that accommodates only Caucasian couples. While one or two photos may not necessarily depict your preferences, it may give the impression that applicants who have disabilities or are minorities aren’t welcome.
Where Should Landlords Run Their Ads?
Advertising your vacancies on your rental business’s social media page is generally considered ‘safe’, but if you’re planning on posting ads in newspapers or on listing websites such as Zillow and Craigslist, you need to ensure that you do not target certain neighborhoods. Set your reach in all directions, without selecting preferred zip codes and areas, to avoid creating the assumption that you are choosing tenants based on where they live. If you intentionally avoid advertising in areas that predominantly have minority groups, you may be sued for discriminating based on race and nationality.
How You Can Protect Yourself
As a rule of thumb, avoid using discriminatory language, images, and terms in your listing. This can include words that have political implications or can be interpreted as being preferential or biased. It won’t matter if you unintentionally use discriminatory language — good intentions won’t protect property owners.
Using discriminatory advertisements could deter prospective tenants, increase turnover rates, and cost you hefty fines. It is crucial to ensure that your listings are inclusive.
Luxury Property Care is a full spectrum property management company in Florida that specializes in residential rental properties. Our property managers are well-acquainted with the Fair Housing Act, which guarantees that our listings are always compliant and inclusive.