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Civil Rights

Five Fair Housing Act Enforcements to Look for When Renting Apartments

— December 10, 2020

The NAA and HUD are closely watching the resident screening laws, and we can hope for clearer guidance soon that would address any pressing concerns. 

The Fair Housing Act came into force in 1986, to ensure fair housing practices across the United States. In effect, this law safeguards the protected classes from discrimination in sales or renting houses. 

Since its implementation, the world has evolved to accommodate changing lifestyle habits. Today, there is an exponential hike in the number of rental properties, resulting in a multi-billion dollar industry. 

The significance of the Fair Housing Act is more significant than ever now. Here are some of the biggest steps we are seeing in the rental landscape at the moment. 

1. Website Accessibility 

The fair Housing Act includes no clauses that explicitly mandates website accessibility. However, recently the issue has become more relevant as more and more rental agencies are choosing to advertise online. 

The argument here is that someone who has a disability might not be able to access a computer or understand what is shown on the screen. At first, such lawsuits were only targeted at hotels, but now it is also a cause for concern for rental properties. Though technology is adapting to solve this issue, the NAA/NMHC is also working with the Senate to address the rise of these lawsuits that will ultimately not affect improving property accessibility. 

2. Fair Housing Design and Construction 

All new buildings are expected to have certain design features that make it more accessible for users with different types of challenges and disabilities. However, these building codes are open to interpretations, often leading to a multitude of lawsuits. There are also conflicts that arise from following the local regulations, overlooking those within the FHA. 

The Department of Justice and HUD has now offered clear guidance on construction rules to determine any compliance problems that now exist. 

3. Emotional Support Animals 

Though the rules regarding emotional support animals are apparent, an issue with ESA continues to be a thorn in the side of operators and fringes upon the policy of the Fair Housing Act.

Golden retriever; image by Caleb Fisher, via
Golden retriever; image by Caleb Fisher, via

The NAA is expected to offer clear guidance, and control fraudulent practices involved in renters evading any fees associated with pets. It has become a challenge to screen applicants who request an exception of pet policies for an emotional support animal. With the possibility and ease to acquire an ESA certificate online, it isn’t easy to assess the legitimacy of such requests. 

4. Discrimination in Advertisements 

NAA also emphasizes that owners and agencies should also review their advertising on all platforms. A few cases of age discrimination in the digital advertisement for apartments has been observed, which violated the Fair Housing Laws in individual states. This happens while targeting an audience through digital marketing by selecting preferences of user interests and demographics. 

5. Criminal Screening 

Criminal screening is considered an essential aspect to ensure the security of a building, residents and the community. However, currently, the practice is not encouraged under the Fair Housing Act. 

HUD in 2016 released a warning for housing providers that prohibiting tenancy based on criminal records goes against FHA, which has led to numerous lawsuits with the cause of discrimination. Residence operators should particularly take note of this point as they often check for criminal records while looking into prospective clients. 

Being ignorant of such legal requirements could put the landlords and rental agencies at risk. 

The NAA and HUD are closely watching the resident screening laws, and we can hope for clearer guidance soon that would address any pressing concerns. 

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