Most legal technicalities landlords need to worry about have to do with the Fair Housing Act. It is easy to win a Rent and Possession lawsuit, but discrimination suits can follow. Since the technicalities can range from small to obvious, here is a list of 10 technicalities for landlords to be aware of.
Advertising is the prime method for landlords to find tenants, and in order to remain compliant with the Fair Housing Act, they have to worry about technicalities even at this phase. The advertisement should never even hint at what kind of a tenant a landlord is hoping to find. It should only accurately describe the property and amenities. The end of the advertisement should include a statement about how there is no discrimination and the fair housing logo.
Avoid Accusations of Steering
Steering happens when a landlord tries to get a resident to take a unit in a specific area of the apartment complex through subtle or outright hints. In order to avoid steering claims, the entire property should be shown, and if the landlord or the property management company intends to rent to the prospective tenant, then the tenant should decide which available property to occupy. Finally, the landlord should present only the facts about the rental community and property and omit any information regarding potential neighbors or residents.
Screening Application Technicalities
Claims about fair housing frequently arise because of the screening and application process. Think out the written policy carefully. It should only include rental criteria, occupancy guidelines, and an availability policy. A landlord should never question or hint at mental or physical disabilities on an application.
Due to a HUD memo in 1991, Congress enacted a rule that two people per bedroom was acceptable and standard, but this is not a hard and fast rule. Depending on the size of the rooms and the property layout, the figure can be altered and successfully argued in court. Also, there are experts who say infants do not count toward occupancy standards.
Landlords should never assume they have to make reasonable accommodations for certain tenants. It should only be taken under advisement at the resident’s request. If the landlord assumes an accommodation is needed and makes the accommodation before the resident makes a formal request, then they are open to a discrimination claim.
Setting Apartment Rules
Setting unit rules is acceptable and advised, but the language used should be simple and non-discriminatory. Using terms like residents or guests is acceptable, but targeting age groups by even saying the word “children” can be viewed as discriminatory. Some terms are acceptable when safety is at stake, but state and local laws should be consulted. Finally, the landlord or property management company should make sure the rules are enforced uniformly.
Landlords can require a resident to pay for and remove any modifications made to the property. Where a lot of landlords get into trouble is some modifications residents ask to make are already federal law. Making residents pay for a modification already required by federal law is a serious breach in fair housing. Landlords should check where the financial liability falls for any requested modification.
Property management companies should keep records of current, past, and possible residents. Also, all calls from prospective residents should be logged, even if they never show up to view the property. In addition to those records, all applications should be kept whether they are denied or accepted. This helps keep the landlord compliant with changes to fair housing laws, and the landlord would have plenty of evidence showing no discrimination ever took place to produce in the event of a discrimination claim.
Proper Employee Training
Landlords should make sure there is a written policy explicitly outlining what is considered harassment, especially sexual harassment. Anytime a new employee joins the staff or a new property management company takes over, a training meeting should take place regarding fair housing laws, the consequences of violations by employees and consequences to the landlord and property management company if an employee commits a violation. If you are doing landlord duties on your own, now is the time to ask yourself, do you need to hire a property management company? They can keep records for you and make sure all files are properly stored.
Landlords should never be afraid to evict a tenant if the resident violated housing rules. In order to make sure the eviction does not violate fair housing, there should be the following five things proving the eviction was necessary:
Warning letters and eviction notices
Written complaints by third parties
Written logs by the property managers regarding complaints and things they noticed
Police records, if any
The 10 technicalities above are things landlords and their property management companies need to know and be well versed in. As you can see, the technicalities can start before a resident has even moved in.
Author Information: Eileen O’Shanassy is a freelance writer and blogger based out of Flagstaff, AZ. She writes on a variety of topics and loves to research and write. She enjoys baking, biking, and kayaking. Check her out on Twitter at @eileenoshanassy.