Fair Housing Act Tip: Have Written Policies and Apply Them Uniformly

The Fair Housing Act Prohibits Discrimination on Account of Family Status.

I recently gave a presentation (graciously provided by the Intermountain Fair Housing Council) to the Brokers Council of Idaho.  The focus of the presentation was on how landlords can avoid discriminating against people based on their family status.

My most frequent answer to audience questions was: “Have a written policy dealing with X, and apply it uniformly to everyone.”

Examples of Written Policies as a Risk Management Tool for Landlords.

Q: What if I operate an apartment complex that doesn’t allow pets and a prospective renter says they need to have their service animal with them?

A: Have a written No-Pets policy, and then deal with requests for a deviation (also known as a request for a reasonable accommodation) on a case-by-case basis. This will prevent discrimination against a person with a disability, and it will help you fend off later demands from tenants who want to have pets.

Q: What if my four-bedroom rental house has only one bathroom and is on a small septic tank?  Can I legally limit the number of occupants to four, even though the HUD guideline says that two people per room plus one (nine people in this example) is presumed reasonable?

A: Probably yes, because the HUD guideline also allow for limiting occupancy based on real-world challenges such as the ones at this house.

Have a written Occupancy Policy that (1) states the total number of occupants; and (2) explains the basis for limiting the number occupants.

Also, when advertising the availability of the house, include those important facts in the ad.  It will help all prospective tenants make reasonable choices about whether that house is a good fit for them. Many renters are aware of the HUD guideline and will expect to be able to put a family of 9 into the house unless they know why this one won’t fit their family.

The Do’s for Landlords:

DO think about the various factors that affect each of your rental properties, such as pets, number of occupants, and limits on the number and frequency of overnight guests.

DO have written policies that are tailored for each rental property.

DO apply them uniformly to everyone, and train your staff how to do likewise.

Michael Oswald



Please note: the above post contains educational information. It is not intended as legal advice. Engage an attorney who is licensed in your state to get advice on dealing with any specific legal issue.

© 2019 Michael S. Oswald

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