Fair Housing Act: What is it?
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a federal law that was passed in 1968. It offers protections against discrimination to seven federally protected classes: race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, or disability status. These protections have evolved and expanded over the past 48 years. Three specific changes have recently come into play.
1. Disparate Impact
What it is: Disparate impact is putting in place a policy that has an unintentional adverse impact on protected classes.
Example: A developed is constructing a for-rent and for-sale community. As part of the rental application, each person needs to be gainfully employed to ensure they can afford to pay rent. This unintentionally has a discriminatory effect on people with disabilities who are more likely to be unemployed.
What this means for landlords: Whenever you change a policy or procedure, be careful to document your process and identify legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for the change. Some areas have additional classes of protections so it’s a good idea to check with a legal professional or the local fair housing association.
2. Criminal Records Screening
What is it: In 2016 the Department of Housing and Urban Development explained how criminal background checks can have disparate impacts on people of color. Statistically people of color have a higher incarceration rate and are more likely to be charged with drug-related crimes. This new guideline encourages landlords to avoid using arrest records and one-strike prohibitions but instead to consider the “nature, severity, and recency” of the conviction
Example: A potential tenant fails the criminal record portion of the screening criteria due to a possession charge.
What this means for landlords: This guideline shifts the focus of the criminal record screening to crimes that pose real health and safety dangers. Landlords should develop consistent and objective criteria when considering a potential tenants’ criminal record.
3. Limited English Proficiency
What is it: The Department of Housing and Urban Development announced in 2016 that discrimination against limited English proficiency persons may violate the FHA.
Example: A landlord presents a non-English speaking potential tenant with a lease written in English. The landlord does not allow for time to translate the documents.
What this means for landlords: Much like navigating disparate impact, it is important to maintain consistency. Keeping application policies the same for everyone regardless of their primary language will keep the renting field fair for all involved.
The Fair Housing Act and disparate impact can be tricky to navigate even when landlords have the best intentions. At Mainlander we are committed to upholding all Fair Housing policies as well as educating ourselves and others on the matter. Have a question? Give us a call to talk to one of our property management experts today.