This biweekly sponsored column is written by the experts at Gordon James Realty, a local property management firm that specializes in residential real estate, commercial real estate and home owner associations. Please submit any questions in the comments section or via email.
The Fair Housing Act is a federal law that protects tenants and prospective tenants from illegal housing discrimination. However, many states — and the District of Columbia — have their own fair housing rules. These tend to expand on the federal law, guaranteeing additional rights to current and potential renters or homeowners.
The Fair Housing Act covers a few broad categories. For example, you can’t not rent a property to someone simply because they have a disability. It seems obvious, but problems can arise when the potential tenant has a service animal. Is it discrimination to not allow that person to rent if you have a no-pets policy? It is.
Other basic categories include:
- National origin
- Sex (gender or sexual harassment)
- Family status
D.C.’s rules build upon the seven. To comply with the District’s fair housing rules, remember these 11 areas:
- Marital status
- Family responsibilities
- Victim of an intra-family offense (domestic violence)
- Personal appearance
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity or expression
- Political affiliation
- Source of income
- Place of residence or business of any individual
In addition to outright discrimination, be aware that “steering” and “blockbusting” are equally illegal. That means you can’t “nudge” people toward another property or neighborhood because of a personal preference, or advertise in order to attract tenants from a particular demographic.
Blockbusting isn’t as common these days, but you can still find pockets of it here and there. It’s the practice of introducing minority homeowners into previously all-white neighborhoods in order to profit from prejudice-driven market instability.
It may be easy to avoid most of those areas, but you eventually will run into a tenant who causes a pause. We suggest developing a qualifying checklist or working with a property management company that uses one. It puts all your tenants on equal footing. More importantly, it’ll keep you in compliance with fair housing rules in Washington, D.C.
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