Discrimination against Tenants
By Sadiya Anjum
Discriminating against an individual based on his/her background is unethical. But more importantly it is illegal and a landlord who discriminates against his tenants can be prosecuted. The Federal Fair Housing Act forbids discrimination based on race, religion, gender, ethnic background, disability (mental or physical), families with children and national origin. Apart from these criteria, each state may have its own criteria against which one cannot be discriminated.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) enforces this act and safeguards the right of every individual to obtain non-discriminatory housing. An individual who is a victim of discrimination may file a complaint with this agency, or any other state agency in charge of fair housing, or may even file a lawsuit directly. Investigations are usually carried out based on the compliant; if the landlord is found guilty he may be asked to compensate.
Most often landlords do not have an agenda when acquiring tenants; all they require is someone who can be a good tenant – abiding by rules and paying their rent on time. But state laws dictate what can or cannot be considered as discrimination. It is best that you as a landlord find out about these. Acts committed in ignorance may still be considered as discrimination and land you in trouble.
Landlords are not allowed to discriminate an individual based on his background. He cannot advertise for or accept ‘adults only’ tenants. Even if you have a genuine reason for not allowing children such as their safety in a particular area, it is not in your jurisdiction to decide. The parents have to take this responsibility while you make your property as safe as possible.
People with disabilities cannot be discriminated against. You will be required to make the entryways and access areas user friendly for them. Any other modifications a handicapped person may want to make in his home should also be allowed. Even if you have a no pet policy, it becomes void with service animals. You will have to allow service animals that are a necessity for certain individuals.
The form of discrimination is not just restricted to verbal acts. Any other subtle methods one may employ to avoid letting certain people in your property will be considered as discrimination. This includes acts such as claiming a property has already been rented out, advertising for certain kinds of tenants only, increasing the rent amount for certain tenants, subjecting them to stricter rules such as higher security deposit, steering a tenant to a particular unit because of his/ her ethnicity or background, terminating a tenancy for no just reason etc. In addition, all facilities in the property should be easily and equally accessible to all tenants.
However a landlord may have his own screening criteria and methods before he accepts any tenants. These criteria should not be based on any of the aforementioned ones. You are allowed to check if the person is financially capable of renting your property, has a history of making payments on time, check with previous landlords on the individual’s behavior and conduct etc. But you must remember that the screening process should be the same for all individuals. One person cannot be subjected to a tough screening process while another is let off easily. You are also not allowed to discriminate against an individual based on his source of income such as child support, housing subsidy, rental assistance program etc.
One must always consciously not insult or offend anyone by discriminating against them. It is difficult to monitor one’s ethics but the law definitively safeguards the people’s right to be treated justly. Know the laws on housing discrimination in your area so you do not subject any individual to humiliation.
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