Rental Trends: Understanding the Fair Housing Rental Laws in D.C.

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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.

Income property owners are likely aware of federal Fair Housing laws, but they may be less familiar with D.C.’s ban on discrimination based on appearance or other additional anti-discrimination protections that exist throughout the D.C. metro area.

The Federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability or family status. But each state, city and county in the region makes it illegal to discriminate against several additional groups, known as protected classes.

Following are additional protections in each jurisdiction.

In D.C., landlords may not discriminate in housing based on: age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, family responsibilities, matriculation (being enrolled in college or other secondary education), political affiliation, source of income, place of residence or business or being a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

In Virginia, state law protects those who are 55 or older from age-based discrimination in housing. In Northern Virginia, both Arlington County and Alexandria outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation and marital status. Alexandria also prohibits discrimination based on children and ancestry.

The variations from place to place make it crucial that landlords know and follow all federal, state and local laws when advertising property, selecting tenants, and working or communicating with interested applicants and tenants. Each year, about 10,000 housing discrimination charges are filed, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Discrimination can take many forms. A few examples include: imposing additional checks or requirements for some groups applicants and not others, overtly refusing to rent to someone in a protected class, refusing to allow a guide dog in a pet-free building, refusing to allow a tenant to make reasonable modifications to a property to accommodate a disability, and asking screening questions that are discriminatory or may be interpreted as being discriminatory against any protected group.

Professional, licensed property managers are required to understand all federal and local Fair Housing rental laws and ensure they are followed, both to safeguard the rights of applicants and tenants and to protect owners from legal trouble. Of course, a property manager can help ensure owners rely only on legal, relevant and consistent criteria for making decisions about applicants’ qualifications, such as credit history, income ratio and rental history. You can learn more about our property management services.

This article does not serve as legal advice and is offered only for informational purposes.