The Fair Housing Act: A Guide For Atlanta Property Owners and Tenant Screening

Are you familiar with the Fair Housing Act? As a property owner, it's critical to understand how this law applies to tenant screening and management to protect against discrimination for renters. When creating the criteria for your property and reviewing applications, a landlord cannot refuse to rent to someone for any reason that violates the law.

In this blog post, the best property management Atlanta, Ga offers discusses staying in compliance with the Fair Housing Act when marketing your rental and screening potential residents. 

What is the Fair Housing Act?

The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination in the United States. Anyone can rent a home or apartment anywhere they choose, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religious preference, disability, family status, or national origin under this law. While this law protects tenants, property owners must understand and abide by it to protect their investments!

When working according to anti-discrimination regulations, a property owner must also avoid discriminating through the lease agreement terms or by advertising with any preference for protected categories. You might be thinking you are clear because you would never intentionally discriminate against a tenant. However, even a well-intentioned statement or conduct by a property owner—or someone acting on your behalf—might be viewed as discriminatory.

It's best to know the law to avoid legal trouble, especially when dealing with tenant screening. Working with one of the best Atlanta property management companies and an attorney can help real estate investment owners stay on the right side of the law when screening new residents!

Smiling black family of three holding keys from their new flat (R) (S)
What's Covered in the FHA?

What exactly is covered in the Fair Housing Act? Let's take a look at each of the protected groups and how property owners can avoid mistakes during the tenant screening process:

Property managers help investors avoid practices that discriminate based on:

  • National origin, race, or color. It's illegal to refer to housing, neighborhood, or neighbors in a racist or ethnic way under federal law. Property owners must also avoid choosing (or denying) a new renter based on these criteria. 
  • Sexual preference or gender. When marketing your property, avoid wording that blatantly distinguishes a preference to place a resident of one gender or sexual orientation over another. Owners also cannot choose a renter based on a preference to only rent to a specific gender. 
  • Religion. Denying a prospective tenant based on their religious affiliation violates the law. 
  • Familial status. It's okay to state that the property is a two-bedroom house or that it has a nursery or family room. However, investors can't prohibit residents based on their marital status or having children.
  • Handicap or disability. Property owners can't refuse a qualified tenant simply because they also have a disability. Anyone with a disability is entitled to reasonable accommodations, such as wheelchair ramps, under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).

It's important for owners to create listings, rental applications, and leasing that complies with the Fair Housing Act to avoid discrimination lawsuits. Likewise, choosing your next tenant and all resident management practices should follow a legal and fair process.

What Is Legal Under the Fair Housing Act?

So, what can you do to comply with the law? A rental property manager can help owners set criteria for potential tenants to ensure they adhere to the Fair Housing Act. They can also help you develop a legal screening process and make decisions that keep you compliant. 

Legal criteria for potential residents can include:

  • Meeting a minimum credit score
  • A minimum income requirement to pay rent
  • No prior evictions
  • No criminal record

Work with a residential property management expert and your lawyer to put criteria in place before you market properties or screen residents to ensure a fair process!

Real estate agent shaking hands couple clients in rental house (R) (S)

Have a Carefully Crafted Tenant Screening Process

Rental managers can also help you create standard (and legal) tenant screening services. Following the law and choosing the right tenant protects your properties and keeps you out of legal trouble!

Here are some best practices to follow:

  • When advertising rental properties, focus on the property's attributes—not a specific type of tenant for the home. 
  • Apply the same screening procedures to each applicant, including background checks and credit reports.
  • Ask the same questions of every applicant during the interview process.
  • Give everyone the same information and opportunity for your rentals (and don't play favorites).

Telling a renter a property isn't available (while it is still available) can be seen as discrimination. Work with property management experts to fine-tune your process, treat every applicant fairly, and stay safe!

Get Tenant Screening Help From An Atlanta, Ga Property Management Company

Tenant screening is an essential tool in finding quality tenants for your rental property. However, even the most well-intentioned landlords can inadvertently run into legal problems if they don't have a standard (and legal) screening process in place. If you don't have a screening process or would like to have an extra set of eyes look at your current process, Compass Property Management is here! We have a wide range of experience to protect your investments!

To learn more about what should be included in a screening, download our free Tenant Screening Checklist!