One can’t escape the subject of Fair Housing laws when engaged in the field of real estate. Whether one has an intention of buying a property, selling a property, or renting one out, the Fair Housing Act comes into play. It upholds fair treatment when it comes to housing.
It can be disheartening for a tenant or buyer to be on the receiving end of a discriminatory practice.
America is built on values of equal opportunity and fairness, and it's everyone's responsibility to ensure each other's rights are being respected. Our country's fair housing laws provide equal opportunities when it comes to renting or buying a property.
Particularly if you're a new or first-time landlord, take the time to make sure you're familiar with the rights of applicants and tenants.
Understanding the Fair Housing Act
In 1968, the Fair Housing Act was created to guard and protect specific classes against discriminatory treatment in the domain of housing. In the '70s, Donald Trump was sued for failing to adhere to fair housing policies in New York.
The federal Fair Housing Act made it illegal to descriminate based on an individual’s national origin, sex, religion, disability, race, and familial status (where there are children under 18 and pregnant women).
Protecting these classes is about ensuring that the vulnerable people in society have a safe place to live.
Dealing with Housing Discrimination
Housing discrimination can manifest in a lot of ways. Here are some common forms of housing discrimination to watch out for:
- When applying for a loan, it's discriminatory to be offered different interest rates and loan terms than other groups of people, based solely on innate attributes.
- When asking for available loans, it's discriminatory to be restricted from certain loan types or not informed about the availability of certain loasn.
- When applying for a loan, it's discriminatory when additional or different requirements are asked from you compared to the standard list of required documents.
- When you’re inquiring about renting a property, it's discriminatory to be denied without legitimate reasons.
- In a rental building, it's discriminatory to have your access to certain amenities that are available to other tenants (such as a pool, lounging areas, or a recreation center).
- It's discriminatory if in advertisements for renting or selling a propert, there's blatant mention of preferred renters or buyers (in terms of race, color, national origin, sex or religion).
Federal Fair Housing Act Exemptions
Under the Fair Housing Act, certain groups and properties are exempt from the typical guidelines.
Examples of situations in which individuals are exempt from the terms of the Fair Housing Act include:
- When you're selling or renting a single-family home without the intervention of a broker.
- When you're occupying a home with four or fewer units.
- If you're a member of a private club or organization that accepts members-only.
Protection Under the New York Fair Housing Laws
New York has the New York State Human Rights Law to further limit discrimination by providers and lenders of housing.
Providers may come in the form of owners, real estate agents, and cooperative boards. Lenders can represent banks and mortgage firms.
New York’s Additional Protected Classes
New York has the same protected classes as the rest of the country, specified under the Federal Housing Law.
However, they’ve also expanded the list of protected classes and included the following:
- Sexual orientation
- Marital status
- Military status
Other local laws in New York also seeks to protect residents from housing discrimination under the following basis:
- Citizenship status
- Partnership status
- Gender identity
- Source of income (this includes housing assistance, public assistance, pensions, supplemental security income, social security, unemployment benefits or annuities)
Certain areas in New York have local laws that categorize source of income as a discriminatory criteria. These areas include Hamburg, Nassau County, Seneca, and Buffalo.
There are also additional protections for renters because of the ongoing global pandemic. These protections include limits on evictions and foreclosures during these difficult times.
Read this guide for a helpful overview of what New York's regulations regarding evictions are.
New York’s Exceptions Under the Fair Housing Act
Just like the Federal Housing Law, New York also has its own exemptions.
Examples of some of these exeptions include the following:
- A family home that’s occupied by the owner (can be 2 buildings) may be exempt.
- Rental rooms occupied by the property owner may be exempt.
- Rental rooms in housing for same sex individuals may be exempt.
Examples of Illegal Actions
Under the Fair Housing Law, these actions are considered violations when it comes to mortgage lending, property selling or renting:
- Informing a prospect that the housing is unavailable when it is.
- Having different terms and conditions that apply to different prospective tenants or buyers.
- Concealing information about the availability of a loan.
- Distributing an advertisement that aims to discriminate against the protected classes.
- Flatly refusing to rent, sell or negotiate a housing property to certain individuals.
Protection of Individuals with Disabilities
In respect to the Fair Housing Law, landlords are discouraged from:
- Being dismissive of the option to change a rental space or common area to serve a person with disability.
- Being dismissive of policies or services that will assist a person with disability and make one’s stay more comfortable.
Moreover, landlords must adhere to accessibility requirements if their multi-family housing was constructed after 1991. They must be able to accommodate the needs of individuals with disabilities in using both public and common use areas.
Remedies for Discrimination
After a discriminatory practice had occured, there are remedial actions one can follow. These can be:
- Making changes in housing policies and improving practices to eliminate any form of discrimination.
- Informing a prospect that the housing or loan is available if previously they’d been rejected access to it.
- Subjecting the violator of the Fair Housing Law to fines and penalties.
- Computing for the financial damages and lawyer expenses.
Landlord Tips to Avoid Discrimination Complaints
Here's some helpful advice for landlords to escape from unnecessary fines and penalties caused by violating terms of the Fair Housing Act:
Create a unified standard for every prospective renter: The documents you provide should be standard and uniform. Further, your tenant screening protocol must be the same for everyone.
Ensure that everyone is fairly treated: Remember that any applicant could actually be a representative from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) who could be checking in on your tenant screening practices.
Place yourself in the prospective renter’s shoes: It's generally a good idea to treat prospective tenants how you could want to be treated in their situation, giving them a fair opportunity and treating them in a considerate and professional manner.
The Bottom Line
Being well informed when it comes to knowing both the federal and New York laws on Fair Housing will serve you well as a landlord. Aside from steering clear of penalties, one’s reputation as a fair landlord is important.
If you're looking for assistance with your rental property in New York, get in touch with the experts at Essential Property Management. We'd be pleased to tell you more about ways we can help you and your rental property thrive.