3 Things You Can’t Ask Tenants | Fair Housing Violations
Fifty years ago this April 11 ‑‑ just 7 days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ‑‑ President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968 into law. The Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, color, religion, or national origin, is Title VIII of that law.
California, the Golden state. Along with the sun and fun, your rental property is located in the most litigious state in the union. Sorry about being a Debbie downer but the facts are the number of fair housing lawsuits continue to rise within the state.
In 2015 the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing reported a record number 23,770 complaints against landlords for fair housing violations. With continued education and an increase in rental property owners utilizing residential property management companies that number was reduced to 17, 041 down 33%. Definitely a start in the right direction but a long way to go.
The good news for landlords is that most complaints are avoidable. Hiring professional property management to manage your rental property would be the first step in protecting against fair housing claims. If you’re managing your own rental property then it’s important to understand the current fair housing laws and what can and can not be asked of potential or existing tenants.
Here Are 3 of Many Questions You Can’t Ask Tenants.
1) Where Were You Born
Asking a prospective or existing tenant about their country of origin is a violation of State & Federal law. Even in seemingly harmless conversation that leads to asking a person if they are Chinese or Japanese is considered a violation.
It may be an innocent enough question, especially if the prospective tenant or existing tenant has an accent but it’s actually against the Fair Housing Act to ask questions regarding someone’s nationality. A landlord cannot ask about nationality or upbringing either, or a spouse’s.
This is all information that should have no bearing on an application, or suitability as a tenant. If a landlord does ask, the penalties can be severe.
2) Assistive Living Animals
It is unlawful to ask a prospective or existing tenant if they have an assistive living animal. Tenants with assistive living animals is on the rise. The majority of tenants who need assistive living animals require them for legitimate disabilities and are protected under state and federal law. It is unlawful to refuse tenancy to anyone because of an assistive living animal.
Unfortunately, the industry is noticing that many tenants are using this law to certify their pet via online certification to bypass landlords who do not want to rent to tenants with pets.
Regardless of legitimacy this is a grey area. A landlord may think they are inquiring about the pet or animal but the law may interpret they are inquiring about the tenants disability and that’s a violation of state and federal law. Best practice is to not ask and allow for the tenant to disclose based on the no pet tenancy terms.
Asking a prospective tenant about their children is a violation of state and federal law. Tenants with children are protected under familial status and the mere asking of the question is a violation. Even inquiring about someone’s pregnancy is a violation.
Anything relating to kids, whether it’s their ages, how many you have, where they go to school, or if you’re planning to have any, it’s all off limits. A landlord should never initiate questions regarding children and tenants may even refuse to answer application questions regarding children.
In full disclosure I’m not an attorney and don’t pretend to play one online. It’s important to understand and obey state and federal laws when dealing with rental property. If you have questions or concerns regarding these laws, seek legal advice and implement professional property management to further reduce liability.
To be safe, you should also avoid questions about marital status, sexual orientation, source of income, age or any other possible protected class in your State.
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Written by Salvatore Friscia, owner of San Diego Premier Property Management a full service residential property management company offering Worry Free property management to the greater San Diego area since 2004.