The enactment of the Fair Housing Act in the US occurred on April 11, 1968. The main goal of the act was to prohibit housing discrimination, either in the rental or sale of housing.
As an NC landlord, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the act in order to avoid potential housing discrimination claims from your tenants.
What is the Goal of the Fair Housing Act?
The goal of the Fair Housing Act is to end discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing on the basis of certain protected classes. Landlords, real estate agents, and property managers all need to be aware of what the Fair Housing Act covers and how they can avoid any discriminatory behavior.
There is both a state and federal Fair Housing Act. Protections exist at both federal and state level. In North Carolina, the protected classes are: race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disabilities, and familial status (i.e. having children or not).
What Types of Properties Does the North Carolina Fair Housing Act Cover?
The North Carolina Fair Housing Laws cover most residential units.
Examples include single-family homes, condos, apartments, group homes, migrant housing, long-term lodging, and even shelters for the homeless and domestic violence victims.
In very limited circumstances, the Fair Housing laws have a few exceptions. These are:
- A single-family home that the property owner rents out without using agent services.
- A dwelling with 4 or fewer units where the owner occupies one of them.
- Private clubs that give preference to their members.
- Organizations that give preference to their members, such as a religious organization.
What Local State Agency Enforces the Fair Housing Act?
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is the main federal agency tasked with enforcing the federal Fair Housing Act.
Some states also have government agencies that enforce the act at the local level. North Carolina is one of them.
Anyone who feels discriminated against for housing-related matters can complain to the North Carolina Human Relations Commission (HRC).
Are There Penalties for People Found Guilty of Housing Discrimination?
Yes, there are.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), first-time violators can be penalized a maximum of $16,000. For those who violate the act again within a five-year period, the maximum penalty currently stands at $37,500.
And for those with more than two fair housing violations within a 7 year period, the maximum penalty is a whopping $65,000.
In addition to the aforementioned civil penalties, other penalties can also include the following:
- Being responsible for your tenant’s compensatory damages. This can include having to pay their out-of-pocket expenses as they seek alternative housing.
- Punitive damages for the wrongdoing where the intent is found to be either malicious or willful.
What Are Some Examples Fair Housing Act Violations that Landlords Should be Aware of?
As a North Carolina landlord, your responsibility is to make sure your tenant screening and placement process is free of housing discrimination.
When investing in NC real estate, remember that you can up having to pay fines for violations of the Fair Housing laws if you’re not careful.
It’s possible to unknowingly and unintentionally violate the Fair Housing Act, leading to legal trouble. Here are some examples of discrimination to avoid:
- Refusing to rent out your vacant unit to a tenant because of characteristics such as race, color, religion, familial status, and so on.
- Lying that your rental home isn’t available for rent because a tenant has a characteristic you don’t like, such as being pregnant or having children.
- Using different qualifying criteria for housing applications depending on the applicant’s race, color, or any other protected class.
- Treating tenant maintenance requests differently based who asked for them.
- Threatening or interfering with your tenant’s exercise of their fair housing rights.
- Providing different tenants with different services, amenities, and accommodations on the basis of a protected class, such as religion.
- Refusing to make accommodations for a tenant with a physical disability.
- Refusing to allow a tenant to have their service animal in the unit.
What Rights Do Disabled Tenants in North Carolina Have?
People with disabilities have the right to fair housing. Basically, this means that it’d be unlawful for you to discriminate your tenant because of their disability. For example:
- Rejecting a application solely on the basis of the applicant’s disability.
- Charging a disabled tenant a pet fee, if they have a service animal.
- Rejecting a tenant because of having a service animal.
- Refusing to make accommodations to the lease agreement for their disability.
As a landlord, you have a responsibility to ensure a disabled tenant can enjoy their rented space, just like any other tenant. To do this, you’re required by the state landlord-tenant laws to make certain reasonable accommodations and modifications.
The following are some examples of reasonable accommodations and modifications to make.
What Can a Landlord Do to Avoid FHA Violation Claims from Tenants?
The following are some tips to keep in mind when dealing with both prospective and existing tenants in North Carolina:
- Advertise your rental property the right way. Avoid phrases or statements that show preference to a particular group of tenants. For instance, avoid stating any sort of discrimination such as “No Pets,” “Christian Home”, or “Ideal for a Single Professional.”
- Have a proper tenant screening process. Yes, you have a right to choose the kind of tenant that you want. However, you can’t subject applicants to a discrimination in the process. Asking a tenant about whether they are married, for instance, would be discriminative. So would asking different questions to different applicants.
- Hire an experienced property management company. This is your best bet against all manner of legal issues. A great property manager understands the legal obligations of landlords, what they can do to avoid discrimination against tenants, as well as other property management laws.
For expert help with North Carolina property management, KRS Property Management can help. Get in touch to learn more about our housing management services!
This content is not a substitute for professional legal advice.