Fair housing laws are on the books at federal and state levels to discourage unequal treatment and prevent discrimination in rental housing. Rental property owners and landlords in Grand Rapids need to at least know the very basics when it comes to fair housing laws. Fair housing casts a shadow over your market process, the way you screen tenants, and how you treat those residents throughout the entire tenancy.
We trust that you would not intentionally discriminate against anyone. However, you may be surprised at how easy it is to give the perception that you’re discriminating. The wrong word in a listing, for example, can make it seem like you prefer certain characteristics in a tenant, which cannot be considered when deciding who will occupy your property. Holding one applicant to a higher standard than another applicant can also lead to charges of discrimination.
Fair housing complaints and claims can lead to investigations and fines, which are expensive. This type of violation can also damage your reputation.
We’re here to help you navigate fair housing laws in Grand Rapids so you can avoid potential risk, liability, and lawsuits.
Federal Fair Housing Act
The federal Fair Housing Act prevents real estate agents, landlords, property managers, mortgage lenders, leasing agents, and anyone else involved in the housing industry from discriminating against tenants, buyers, or applicants based on the following protected classes:
- Familial status
- National origin
Avoid mistakes by having consistent policies in place that document how you handle marketing, showings, screenings, and leasing. Make sure you can demonstrate you are objective.
Michigan Fair Housing Laws
In Michigan, the law is even stricter than the Fair Housing Act. Michigan law prohibits discrimination for all the same reasons as the federal law, and then adds two additional protected classes. According to state law, you are also not permitted to discriminate based on age or marital status. You cannot rent out a home to married couples only or to single people only. You cannot require that renters are 25 years of age or older or younger than 70.
Fair housing laws in Michigan also prohibit harassment of any kind as well as retaliation against a tenant who files a complaint.
Michigan fair housing laws protect tenants when they are:
- Viewing a property or asking questions about it.
- Applying to rent a property
- Buying renter’s insurance
You have to follow fair housing laws when you’re advertising your home, talking with tenants, screening applications, and negotiating the lease agreement.
Where Fair Housing Mistakes are Made: Advertising and Screening
In our experience as property managers in Grand Rapids, we’ve found that if an owner is going to get into trouble with fair housing, it will usually be while advertising their home or screening their tenants. We have been called to help in these circumstances, and here’s what we can tell you:
- Marketing and Advertising
Marketing and advertising is the best way to attract tenants to your property. It’s important to be strategic when you list and advertise a rental home in order to minimize vacancy times and rent your home to the best possible tenant. Any of your listings, marketing materials, or signs need to comply with fair housing laws.
It’s fine to include details in your listing that discuss the home’s size, what the rent will be per month, when the home will be ready for occupancy, and what the property’s benefits are.
What’s not fine is saying the home would be “great for single professionals.” You should not say it’s close to churches. This type of language can be seen as discriminatory against several of the law’s protected classes.
Your advertising must remain focused on what the property is and what it has to offer. Don’t make assumptions about who would want to live there and don’t talk about the types of tenants you would prefer.
- Screening Tenants Objectively and Consistently
Put together a set of standard rental criteria, and document it in writing. This should be provided to any potential applicant who is interested in renting the property. They will understand what you need to see before you approve an application.
Screen each application against the same requirements, otherwise you could be accused of discrimination. Here’s an example: If you deny one applicant because of a 580 credit score, you cannot then approve a tenant who has a 560 credit score. You can be accused of discriminating against the tenant who was denied.
Set up the standards you seek in terms of credit, income, criminal history, and rental references. This will make it easy for you to move through the application process because you’ll know exactly who is approved and who is not just by objectively looking at the data.
Fair Housing and Tenants with Disabilities
Fair housing laws protect people with disabilities from being discriminated against when they’re renting a home. They also require property owners to make reasonable accommodation if and when it becomes necessary in order to provide an equal enjoyment of the home. Some examples of accommodations include:
- Structural modifications (i.e. shower bars)
- Exceptions to rules or policies
- Allowing a service animal in a rental home that does not allow pets
As a landlord, you can decide whether or not to allow pets in your Grand Rapids rental property. You’re not discriminating against anyone when you say no to pets.
However, you cannot deny tenants with service or support animals. The fair housing laws do not consider those animals to be pets. They are, instead, accommodations. This means you have to allow them. It also means you cannot charge a pet fee or pet rent.
Fair housing laws can be difficult to navigate, and they change frequently. If you don’t have the time or the resources to stay up to date, make sure you’re working with a Grand Rapids property management company. We spend a lot of time staying educated on fair housing laws, and we can keep you and your property compliant. If you have questions or you want to talk about this further, please contact our team at Short South Realty Group.