Reader Question: I have a minority tenant living in my duplex who is behind over two months rent. I had given them extra time when they first missed the payment because I fear being sued or reported and because they take good care of the apartment. They have twice since broken a promise to pay. I cannot continue non-action because I have my mortgage payments. Can I be prosecuted for giving them the notice to vacate under the Fair Housing discrimination laws?
Monty’s Answer: In most cases, the Federal Fair Housing Act will not shield a protected class for non-payment of rent. However, if you have established a pattern of treating protected classes differently for non-payment of rent than non-protected classes, it may impact your protection. The key is to treat all non-paying tenants, protected class or not, in the same fashion. In some circumstances, the Act exempts owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, single-family housing sold or rented without the use of a broker, and housing operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members.
In some states, there are additional protected classes and requirements. For information on the individual states go to this website that discusses each state’s discrimination laws. Consider seeking a legal opinion as you will likely confer with your counsel for eviction advice.
What the law says
Federal law requires fair treatment for all people and prohibits discrimination in the sale and rental of housing throughout the United States. The law also applies to mortgages and insurance. The Fair Housing Act makes discrimination illegal against individuals based on these seven characteristics; sex, race, color, religion, national origin, disability or family status. These groups are known as “protected classes.”
Ethics and the law
The National Association of Realtors (NAR) has adopted this law into their code of ethics. All member brokers and agents are obligated to offer the same number and range of listings to all protected classes, and also, ensure that all protected classes received the same degree of follow-up and the same level of quality service. Non-members of NAR are obligated as well.
Real estate agents who do not follow the law and adhere to this code of ethics are subject to possible civil damages and penalties, loss of license, fines and in some cases, criminal punishment. Agents should not take this obligation lightly.
How do you know when your rights of been violated? Here are some general situations that are illegal:
- Referring the minority prospect to another broker of the same minority.
- Failing to present or delaying the offer of a minority buyer to the seller.
- Offering the property on less favorable terms by differentiating the conditions of the sale/rental to minorities.
- Showing minority buyers only those listings in a minority or transitional neighborhood.
- “Steering” minorities away from specific areas by downgrading the advantage of the home or neighborhood.
The home seller and landlord are also obligated to abide by the Fair Housing Law. Here is how a home seller can adhere to the law:
- Do not ask your broker to convey any discriminatory limitations.
- Do not ask the agent to refrain from showing the home to any of the minorities as mentioned earlier.
- Do not refuse to deal with the minority when the situation arises.
- Report an agent who approaches you about selling due to the minority purchases in your area.
If the treatment you received is less-than-favorable, there are steps you can take to correct the situation. You can complain to the management of the company, the local real estate board or you may get assistance from local and state agencies fighting to eliminate this type of discrimination. Be careful not to misinterpret an agent/landlord’s actions. Consider the behavior carefully before deeming it is discriminatory.
The Federal government understands the importance of housing to both property owners and buyers/tenants. To be fair and protect the economic destiny of both factions, they’ve created law. The law states that all individuals have the right to an equal opportunity in housing; thus protecting personal hopes, dreams and aspirations. Compliance with the law is the responsibility of the individual real estate companies, their agents and the individual home seller and landlord.
Equal opportunity is a legal doctrine in the law to which all need to subscribe. For more information about the Fair Housing Act visit the HUD website at http://1.usa.gov/1SpalQI.