Last week I attended a continuing education class on fair housing organized by the Rental Housing Association. Attorney Philip Lapatin spoke. The time was filled with a balance of interesting examples along with legal facts and details. While I have plenty of rental experience, I always learn a thing or two at continuing education. The two pieces of information that meant the most to me were the steep fines for violating the Fair Housing Act and the value in having a documented procedure for qualifying tenants for a rental.
Most people know the Fair Housing Act protects people from being discriminated against based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap. What people may not know is Massachusetts adds eight additional categories:
- Marital status
- Veteran history
- Public assistance recipiency
- Sexual orientation
- Sexual identity
- Genetic disposition
The maximum penalties for violations are $10,000 for the first offense, $20,000 for a second offense in five years, and $50,000 for a third offense in seven years. Note that people who receive housing assistance (commonly known as Section 8 of the US Housing Act of 1937) are protected from discrimination.
This points to the need for a consistent qualification process in any leasing office or for any owner who is finding tenants on their own. For those who think there is little risk, read about this recent rental discrimination penalty assessed for asking a prospective tenant, “Where are you from?” The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination is the state’s chief civil rights agency and is focused on eliminating discrimination. While they offer training programs, they also have a requirement for law enforcement. Visit their site to read some of the decisions they’ve made; many of the examples are shocking in that this type of behavior continues to exist.
Landlords can especially find themselves in trouble when it comes to handling the possibility of the existence of lead based paint in the rental. There are many rules around how to handle deleading but the penalties are most severe if discrimination is made against a tenant with children under the age of six. The Massachusetts Lead Law is clear as to what is required of landlords.
The session was great; I immediately held a training session with my entire staff to talk through different situations and what we can do better to ensure illegal discrimination doesn’t exist in our office dealings.
How do you ensure you are consistent, fair, and within the guidelines of all applicable laws?