Not many landlords realize this, but they are actually providing a service (their rental home) to consumers (their tenants). This means that their tenants are protected by the Consumer Protection Law, and as landlords, they are legally required to comply with certain rules and regulations.
What is the Consumer Protection Law?
The Consumer Protection Law is an area of law that is overseen by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). It is designed to protect consumers from unfair, fraudulent, and unethical practices taken by businesses. The Consumer Protection Law enforces specific rules and regulations in cultivating a marketplace where customers are treated fairly.
What is covered under the Consumer Protection Law?
The Consumer Protection Law is applicable federally. Let’s take a look at some of the laws that may be applicable to your rental business:
#1 Fair Credit Reporting Act
Landlords and property managers may review a prospective tenant’s credit report and consumer report during the tenant screening process. This allows them to determine whether the tenant is qualified to rent the unit. When accessing these reports, landlords must abide by regulations set by the FTC under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
Credit reports are prepared from credit bureaus such as Equifax and Trans Union and are used to describe the prospective tenant’s credit score. However, before landlords can obtain such information, they must do the following:
- Request access to credit reports of existing tenants or rental applicants.
- Obtain permission from the tenant or applicant to receive a copy of their credit report.
- Certify to the reporting agency or credit bureau that the information will be used for screening purposes only.
Under the FCRA, landlords and property managers must provide the rental applicant with a written notification whenever the denial is based on their credit score. This is called the “Adverse Reaction”.
Violations of the FCRA may result in civil liabilities amounting to thousands of dollars against the landlord and/or property manager/s.
#2 Marketing and Advertising
The Consumer Protection Bureau has divisions that are dedicated to the prevention of deceptive actions in marketing and advertising.
‘Deceptive advertising’ is when advertisements make false claims about products or otherwise conceal the truth by omitting necessary information. According to the FTC, it includes names, prices, and claims that may mislead consumers. Generally, anything alleged that may impact the customer’s decision or perception about a product or service should be a fact.
An example of deceptive advertising in the rental business is a listing of a single-family unit, depicting it as a home with brand-new appliances and furnishings when in truth, it is actually old and outdated. This would be a direct violation of the Consumer Protection Law, as it would cause prospective tenants to assume that the home they’re renting looks exactly like the one in the pictures.
#3 Fair Housing and Discrimination
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a federal law that prohibits discriminatory practices in housing. It applies to the sale, purchase, and rental of residential buildings within the United States. Many states have created additional laws in support of the FHA, but in general, the law aims to prevent discrimination due to an individual’s race, religion, color, familial status, gender, disability, and national origin.
For example, a landlord is prohibited from placing a sign outside his rental property that says, “white families only.” This would be a direct violation of the FHA. Similarly, a property manager cannot refuse applications from Muslim tenants.
It is important to note that discrimination does not have to be outright. Discrimination in advertising is a common occurrence in the rental industry, yet many landlords are unaware that it exists. Essentially, it prohibits landlords from using images and words that carry discriminatory connotations.
One example of this is a poster of a young, Caucasian couple in front of a home. This may be perceived as discriminatory to tenants who are not young or Caucasian.
#4 Fair Housing and Repairs
Discrimination under the FHA does not apply to the selection of tenants alone. It can occur any time during the tenancy.
Another practice that the FHA prohibits is the refusal to conduct repairs. Landlords are inherently obligated to provide their tenants with a dwelling that meets the minimum standards of habitability. This includes addressing repairs promptly, especially if they put the tenant’s health and safety at risk. When the landlord fails to do this, he or she may face serious consequences.
Hence, landlords must make their services available to all tenants. They cannot refuse to render their services to a specific tenant solely because of their race, religion, and so on. Essentially, tenants must receive equal treatment. A landlord cannot refuse or delay repairs because of his/her personal biases.
#5 CAN-SPAM Act
Does your rental business use emails? Under the CAN-SPAM Act, rental property owners cannot send unwanted communications to recipients who have chosen to opt-out of them. In addition, the law has set the rules regarding how emails should be constructed, such as:
- Do not use misleading subject lines.
- Provide recipients the option to opt out of receiving emails from you.
- Process opt-out requests within ten days.
- Include your valid address in the email.
- Identify yourself in the email and state your intentions.
This means that emails to past tenants or rejected applicants to announce vacancies must comply with the CAN-SPAM Act.
Keep in mind that each email that violates the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to a penalty of as much as $43,792, so be sure that you abide by the law — or else you might find yourself paying for thousands of emails!
Where the law is concerned, it is important to be certain that you follow all of the rules and regulations. If you fail to do this, your tenant may rightfully terminate their lease and sue for damages. As long as your rental business is truthful and fair, then you won’t have any problem at all.
Since there are hundreds of other laws involving the Consumer Protection Act, it would be best to consult a property management firm. At Luxury Property Care, we can help you understand your tenant’s rights and your obligations as their landlord.