Today’s blog is about discrimination in rental housing. It’s often difficult to navigate the murky waters in respect to rental housing. You sometimes have prospective tenants calling in and asking very leading questions. If you answer those questions in the same way they were asked, you could be putting yourself in danger of a discrimination claim.
Familial Status and Age
For example, a prospective tenant might call and ask if you take children. They may be asking because they have children and they want to know if the unit is suitable for children. Or, they may be asking because they want to avoid children. Either way, you cannot be concerned with this question. Adult-only housing is illegal in California. However, senior housing for people who are 55 years and older is allowed. This is a niche and it’s legal.
An alternative to this question is “are there children living here?” Again – they might want to know if there are children nearby because they have their own children or because they’re hoping you’ll say no. If the caller continues to push, the best way to respond is by saying that you’re an equal opportunity housing provider and you welcome tenants of all ages. Talk about amenities such as the playground or the wading pool, but don’t talk about who your current tenant pool is. If they continue to push, mention the state and federal fair housing laws that prevent you from providing or discussing such information.
Race and Ethnicity
A prospective tenant may also ask about the mix of the community – what kind of people live there. They might be hoping for a particular demographic in order to live among people who are like themselves, or they might have particular prejudices and they want to avoid a mixed community – whatever that mix may be. This is a prohibitive question because it can touch on the race, religious or ethnic background of your tenants and those are prohibited topics of discussion. They may also ask to see a unit that is next to or not next to a particular demographic. This is also to be avoided because it’s known as steering – the potential tenant is trying to learn more about who the neighbors will be. This is discussing information that isn’t allowed under the various acts of the fair housing law.
Providing Criminal Information
Even if the potential tenant asks whether the property is in a potential crime or drug area, it’s a tricky question to answer. This can set you up for liability even if it’s not a direct violation of fair housing. If you assure them the unit is in a safe neighborhood and the some kind of criminal activity occurs, you could face a lawsuit. Alternatively, if you answer negatively you could be accused of trying to get them not to rent from you.
However, if there has been recent criminal activity on the property, you need to disclose that so you don’t get accused of negligence. In California, you would be in compliance if you disclose there has been a death in the property within the last three years.
As you can see, knowing fair housing laws to avoid discrimination lawsuits is a must. If you have any questions about this topic or you need any help, please contact us at Bayside Management.