Thanks to the Fair Housing Act, every American has the right to equal treatment when it comes to housing. Unfortunately, there are still some people in Seattle, WA who know very little about this law.
That’s why it’s not rare to find property landlords and sellers fighting lawsuits due to discrimination.
So, if you are a landlord looking for more information about the Fair Housing Act, here are answers to eight of the most common questions.
1. What’s the Fair Housing Act?
The Fair Housing Act is a law that deals with discrimination in the housing sector.
It was established to deter landlords and property sellers from discriminating against members of a particular class in society.
Basically, it ensures that every American, regardless of class, is treated fairly and equally in any housing-related activity including:
- Selling a house,
- Renting and;
- getting a mortgage loan
2. How long has the Fair Housing Act been in play?
Officially, the Fair Housing law was enacted in 1968. But, in truth, the fight for fair housing begun in the mid-1800s.
Sadly, back then housing discrimination was very rampant. That’s why it contributed to a series of actions, including:
- The Civil Rights movement (1960s)
- Rumford Fair Housing Act (1963)
- The Civil Rights Act (1964)
- And finally, leading up to the Fair Housing Act (1968) which was established a week after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.
Evidently, this Act is one of America’s most significant milestones. And the fact that it affects so many lives makes it a necessity.
3. What are the Fair Housing Act’s primary goals?
So, what exactly does the Fair Housing Act do? Or better yet, which examples of housing discrimination does this Act protect people from?
Well, as stated earlier, the Federal Fair Housing Act touches on three main aspects of housing including the selling, renting, and mortgaging of a house.
Here are some examples of discrimination that the FHA shields tenants and property buyers against:
- Refusing to rent, sell, or negotiate for housing
- Lying about the availability of a housing unit or making
- Treating different people with different terms and conditions when renting or selling a home
- Blockbusting (convincing property owners to sell their homes under false pretense)
- Offering different housing amenities and accommodations for different renters
- Setting disparate terms and conditions on a mortgage loan
- Refusing to purchase or make a loan
- Practicing discriminatory practices during property appraising
- Refusing to make information about a mortgage loan available
- Setting divergent requirements for purchasing a house loan
- Using discriminatory statements or being bias against a protected class in your property adverts
- Threatening or interfering with someone’s Fair Housing rights
4. What classes of people are protected under the Fair Housing Act?
The FHA currently protects tenants categorized by seven classes.
The list of protected classes includes:
- National Origin
- Sex (1974)
- Disability (1988)
- Familial Status (1988) – Pregnant women and having children under 18 in a home.
In addition, the year 2017 saw the addition of two more classes to the list. Despite the fact that these classes are not yet explicit in the Fair Housing Act, they are also considered as protected classes. These new classes are:
- Sexual Orientation
- Gender Identity
5. Who enforces the Fair Housing Law?
You may be wondering; who enforces this law?
Well, for many years, enforcement has been a major concern among housing advocates. This is mainly because of inconsistencies across local jurisdictions. Although, anyone whose rights have been violated can file a lawsuit in a federal district court or file a claim with HUD.
Officially, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or HUD is fully responsible for the Fair Housing Act.
But, how do they enforce this law?
HUD employs two methods of enforcement:
- Investigating discrimination claims – Obviously, anyone who feels like their Fair Housing right has been infringed can file a discrimination claim. Thereafter, HUD dispatches a team to investigate the claim. If they find any merit to the case, they’ll decide on the best course of action.
- Fair Housing Testers – HUD uses this technique to check whether sellers or landlords are compliant with the Fair Housing Act. They do so by hiring ordinary people to pose as tenants and home buyers. Therefore, as a landlord or seller, you have to be extra cautious with the things you say on the phone, face-to-face, or on an advertisement to your prospective tenants or home buyers.
6. Are there any exemptions?
Does the Fair Housing Act apply to everyone in Seattle, WA?
No. There are a few exemptions worth noting including:
- A members-only private club or organization,
- Single-family homes sold or rented without using a broker, and;
- an owner-occupied home with less than 4 rentable units.
7. What are the penalties for violating the Fair Housing Act?
In case you innocently (or not so innocently) violate the Fair Housing Law, there are a few penalties you may face.
- A simple discrimination charge attracts a fine or imprisonment for at most a year or both.
- In case there are bodily injuries, the use/attempted use/threatened use of dangerous weapons/explosives/fire, there shall be a fine to be paid or imprisonment for at most ten years or both.
- Lastly, if the discrimination results in a death/attempt to kill, kidnapping/attempted kidnapping, aggravated sexual abuse/attempted aggravated sexual abuse, the penalty may be a fine or imprisonment for any number of years (sometimes life imprisonment), or both.
8. Are there ways to avoid an accusation of discrimination?
There are a few things you can do to steer clear of Fair Housing charges. For example:
- Treat every prospective tenant as a HUD agent trying to bust you for discrimination. Therefore, choose your words carefully when talking to prospects or creating an advertisement.
- Despite the fact that you are expected to comply with the Fair Housing Law, there are a few qualities you can use to deny the sale or renting of your property. These things include criminal records, poor credit, inability to pay the rent, or even unhealthy lifestyles like smoking.
- Maintain consistency at all times. Vetting your prospects using the same process minimizes the chances of you being accused of discrimination. Also, treat everyone with respect, dignity, and kindness.
In summary, these are eight of the most common questions people ask about the Fair Housing Act. If you are a landlord or a property investor in Seattle, WA, the information provided above can greatly help you to avoid legal issues with your prospects due to discrimination.