Following Fair Housing rules to avoid lawsuit

It is amazing what some landlords say to perspective renters. Lines like “I don’t rent to single mothers?” or “How many kids do you have?” seem to come out of far too many people’s mouthes. For those who use that kind of language, you’re playing with fire.

According to Federal Fair Housing Laws, as well as some States and Local Districts, the following classes are protected from discrimination:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Disability
  • Familial Status
  • National Origin
  • Ancestry (In some cases, ie in the State of Missouri)
  • Sexual Orientation (In some cases, ie in the City St. Louis)
  • Source of Income (In some cases, ie in the City of St. Louis)

So what does this mean for landlords? That you better not even ask personal questions of prospective tenants that relate to these classes. Credit scores, employment history and criminal records are fine to use as determining factors, but the above categories are “hands off.” Despite what many property owners seem to think, these laws apply to everyone. Even private owners.

Your personal feelings towards these laws or these people are irrelevant. The fact is that if you discriminate or treat one group of prospective tenants differently than another, you are opening yourself up to a lawsuit. An since there are plenty of nonprofit organizations that provide free legal assistance in cases of such discrimination,you can never tell who could come after you. If you can’t force yourself to keep within the limits of these laws, you’re probably in the wrong business. Watch what you say, watch what you do. You’ll be better off for it.

For more on the rules in the State of Missouri, check out the latest copy of the Missouri Landlord-Tent Law Handbook for more info. For more on federal lawes and other states, click here.

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2 Responses to Following Fair Housing rules to avoid lawsuit

  1. MiamiStreet April 14, 2011 at 10:05 am #

    When you say a landlord shouldn’t ask “how many kids do you have?” to a prospective tenant, one way I’ve found to really get at the heart of the matter is to ask “how many people do you intend to have occupy the unit?” Another method I’ve used, and I hope it keeps me legal, is to say “this is a one-bedroom apartment so I’ll only allow occupancy by two people maximum.”

    • Matt Kastner April 17, 2011 at 10:05 pm #

      Totally agree with that method. There are occupancy limits so discussing things from that angle is fine. It’s all about using your head when talking to prospective tenants.

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