What Constitutes Landlord Discrimination Against a Tenant?
Landlords have many rules and regulations to follow when approving or denying residency to potential residents and the fair treatment of all tenants.
Sometimes, though, it’s difficult to see through the noise of all the discrimination complaints to understand what actually qualifies as discriminatory acts.
The Federal Fair Housing Act, passed in 1968 and the subsequent Fair Housing Act Amendments Act passed in 1988, identify protected categories against which landlords cannot discriminate. They include:
- Race or color
- National origin
- Familial status
Specifically, landlords are prohibited from advertising or making statements indicating preferences based on race, religion, or any other protected category.
It also prohibits landlords from making false statements about unit availability.
Other mandates of the act prohibit the following:
- Adopting inconsistent policies for tenants related to late rent, deposits, etc.
- Creating more restrictive requirements and standards for tenancy or refusing to rent to tenants of specific protected groups.
- Placing unreasonable restrictions on how many people can live in a rental unit.
- Establishing different terms or conditions for different renters.
- Terminating a lease for discriminatory reasons.
- Creating sexually hostile environments.
- Failing to make reasonable accommodations for disabled tenants.
Not all discrimination complaints result in lawsuits or legal action. Some result in mediation or settlements, which can be costly to landlords and property managers, making it essential for property management companies and landlords to invest in employment practices liability insurance.
It helps to protect your assets while also helping to cover the costs of your defense if complaints are levied against you.
How Common are Tenant Discrimination Complaints?
Discrimination complaints are more common than any landlord would like to believe.
The National Fair Housing Alliance reports that there have been more than half a million complaints filed since 1996 with 28,843 claims filed in 2017 alone. The bulk of complaints are related to disabilities, accounting for 57 percent while race and family status rounded out the top three.
Dealing with a Combative Tenant Who Constantly Complains of Discrimination
Unfortunately, the numbers above do not account for nuisance complaints, which do occur. There are even some tenants who are combative about it and seek opportunities or excuses to levy complaints against you.
While you can’t change the minds of someone who is seeking the attention and spectacle of tenants who continuously complain that all rules you seek to enforce are acts of discrimination, there are things you can do to protect yourself.
- Document everything. Write down a report immediately after any altercation or accusation. Record every detail as soon as possible, including neighbor complaints, late rental payments, etc.
- Be consistent with all tenants. If you display the same policies and enforcement with all tenants – and document all equally – complaints will be unable to take on lives of their own.
- Act professionally in all interactions with tenants. You know the old commercial slogan, “Never let them see you sweat.” Apply that tenfold when dealing with all tenants. Keep your cool and maintain a professional demeanor, so complaints have no ground to stand on.
- Be careful what you say. Saying the wrong thing, even in jest, can leave you in a lot of hot water if a potential tenant, existing tenant, or anyone else hears it. Things like telling an applicant you have no vacancies when you do can come back to haunt you.
- Invest in EPL tenant discrimination coverage. This not only helps you cover the costs of settlements that may be awarded against you; it also helps to cover the costs of nuisance lawsuits filed by tenants making trouble. Even if you ultimately win each one, the legal fees alone can be punitive. EPL coverage helps with that.
- Treat all tenants the same. Don’t get too friendly with one tenant or a group of tenants over other tenants. This can lead to hard feelings and discrimination claims even if it has nothing to do with the tenants who feel marginalized.
- Review all ads carefully for accidental discriminatory language. The adds you place can be used as evidence against you if they are worded in a way that makes some groups feel discriminated against or marginalized.
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