What is “Fair Housing”?
July 1, 1999
Fair Housing means that rental history, character and ability to pay are important when you rent your property. Race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, handicap are of no consequence whatsoever.
The reason the “Fair Housing Act” was made into law was that too many landlords gave the impression, and sometimes actually believed, that the color of an applicant’s skin, his religion or national origin was more important than if he would be a good tenant or not—whether he would pay the rent, take care of the property and be a good neighbor.
One sure-fire way to avoid even the appearance of impropriety and illegal discrimination is to treat every person who shows an interest in your rental property, and who rents from you, the way he or she would like to be treated.
An important distinction falls between treating people the way they would like to be treated and treating them the way you would like to be treated. Slight cultural differences result in feelings of distrust and/or skepticism when you say or do something in a way that causes offense in your applicant’s or tenant’s culture.
For example, using a nickname rather than the name they want to be called by may be considered bad form. So, if a prospective tenant says his name is “Jonathan,” call him Jonathan, not “Jon.” It is a major cultural faux pas in the African-American community (and is rude no matter what the culture) to decide someone has a nickname that he or she doesn’t use and doesn’t want to be called. Rudeness and tactlessness may be interpreted as your having a bias against a particular race or culture.
If you aren’t sure or simply don’t know how an applicant would like to be treated, then your best bet is to treat him or her the way you would like to be treated.
If you can’t do either of those, at least treat everyone the same way.
No matter how you treat your prospective and current tenants, though, always rental policies and standards and house rules for your rental properties that have nothing whatsoever to do with race or color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or handicap. These are standards which are objective and relate to how well an individual will do as a tenant and how they are supposed to act to be good tenants and neighbors. Then apply them equally to everyone.
Another method of avoiding even the hint of illegal discrimination is to think or every potential tenant as a potential customer and every tenant as a customer. Your current tenants are paying you thousands of dollars a year, paying your mortgage, property taxes and insurance. And potential tenants are eager to do the same thing. Thinking of it that way could well give an entirely different slant on your relationship with your tenant and potential tenants.
Fair housing is the right thing to do. It doesn’t require treating any one class “specially,” except in a few isolated situations, just that you treat everyone equally and judge each person on the basis of his or her character.