All prospective home buyers and tenants in Florida have a right to be treated fairly and equally. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) was enacted with the sole goal of stamping out discriminatory practices in housing matters. Every home owner seeking to rent out their property must adhere to the laws associated with the FHA.
Examples of practices that would pass as discriminatory include:
- Setting varying prices for the sale of a property or a rental property.
- Not performing repairs or maintenance for renters with certain characteristics.
- Denying or limiting facilities, services, or privileges to some renters that others enjoy.
What is the FHA?
The FHA prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, or financing of dwellings based on certain characteristics. At the federal level, the characteristics are color, disability, familial status, race, sex, religion, and national origin.
Florida, just like some other states, has added more classes to protect its citizens from discrimination. These are age, sickle cell trait, AID/HIV diagnosis, citizenship status, and genetic information.
The Act gave every American the right to seek a place to live without the fear of being discriminated against based on the aforementioned characteristics.
How can Florida home sellers and landlords violate the Fair Housing Act?
The following are common ways in which real estate advertisements can discriminate against potential home buyers or renters.
You cannot exclude statements that exclude members of certain religious organizations. For instance, by stating “Catholics preferred” or “No Muslims.”
Avoid using verbiage that discriminates against a particular sexual orientation or gender. For instance, “Men only” or “Straight couple.”
However, it’s perfectly acceptable to use terms that describe the property. For example, “Bachelor apartment,” “Mother-in-law suite,” and “Master Suite.”
3. National Origin, Race, or Color
It is also unacceptable to use any language that describes a neighborhood or a house ethnically or racially. For example, by stating an apartment is located in an African-American or Hispanic neighborhood.
4. Familial Status
It’d be okay to say that a home is a 2-BR home or that it has a family or nursery room. But, you cannot make outright statements prohibiting persons based on marital status.
5. Disability or Handicap
When advertising your home or rental listing, you cannot make any statements that discriminate against the disabled. For instance, by stating that “no wheelchairs are allowed.”
Even with a “no pet” policy, you cannot turn away tenants with service pets. In this case, the law requires that you make reasonable accommodations to make access easier for people with disabilities.
When was the Fair Housing Act enacted?
Attempts at stamping out housing discrimination began as early as the mid-1800s. However, it wasn’t until the 1960s when the Civil Rights movement began that any real change took place.
But the real change kicked in with the enactment of the Fair Housing Act in 1968. It was signed into law just one week after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
How does the Fair Housing Act combat discrimination in housing?
The FHA has a 3-part approach to tackle housing discrimination against protected characteristics. It does so in any of the following ways.
1. Home Selling & Renting
- Refusing to negotiate, sell, or rent housing to home buyers and renters with certain characteristics.
- Making a house unavailable or lying that it isn’t available for renting or selling when it indeed is.
- Setting varying terms or conditions depending on the characteristics of the seller or renter.
- Providing renters with different amenities or accommodations.
2. Mortgage Lending
- Appraising a property using discriminatory practices.
- Refusing to make loan information available.
- Establishing different requirements for loan purchasing.
- Setting different fees or interest rates on a loan.
- Refusing to purchase or make a mortgage loan.
Who enforces the Fair Housing Act in Florida?
The government body mandated in enforcing the FHA is the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It enforces the FHA in two chief ways.
- By using testers. The HUD can hire people to pose as prospective home buyers or renters to see whether there are any discriminatory practices. That’s why landlords need to be careful when advertising their rentals or screening tenants.
- Investigating claims. Tenants or homebuyers who have reasons to believe they have been discriminated against can file a claim with the HUD. The department will then investigate the matter and see whether any merit exists.
What groups are exempt from the Fair Housing Act?
Certain groups are eligible for exemption from the provisions of the Fair Housing Act. Those groups include:
- Members-only organizations and private clubs.
- Owner-occupied homes that contain more than 4 units.
- Single-family homes that are sold or rented without brokering services.
How can home sellers and landlords avoid potential discrimination lawsuits?
Treat all prospective home buyers and renters equally. Know what questions you can ask and which ones you must stay clear of.
As a landlord, always make sure you have a pre-determined set of questions and qualifications for all your applicants. For example:
- When are you planning to move in?
- Are you ready to pay for all move-in costs?
- Can you provide some references?
- How much income do you make per month?
- How many people will be living with you?
- Have you ever been evicted?
- Do you mind if we run a background check on you?
Overall, ask questions that are based on valid business reasons. In this case, ask questions that are geared towards helping you land a good tenant.
You also want to make sure that you ask every tenant the same set of questions. Asking different questions to different tenants can qualify as discriminative.
Moreover, once your tenant has moved in, make sure you stick to the provisions of the lease agreement. The goal here is to remain consistent in all situations.
Do you still have more questions? If you do, Cavalier Estates, LLC can help. We are an experienced property management company that can help manage your Florida home honestly and professionally.
Disclaimer: This article is in no way a substitute for legal expert advice from a qualified attorney in Florida. Laws change from time to time, and this post might not be updated at the time of your visit.