As a landlord, you have a duty to treat your tenants, and prospective tenants, with respect, fairness and equality.
In 1968, the Congress passed the Fair Housing Act. This Act protects all individuals seeking housing against discrimination on the basis of protected characteristics.
In this post, we are going over a basic overview of the Texas Fair Housing Act and answering some commonly asked questions.
What is the Fair Housing Act (FHA)?
The FHA was passed by Congress in 1968 to help end housing-related discrimination. At that time, the act only protected four classes: religion, sex, race, and national origin.
Later, the act was amended in 1988 to include people with disabilities and families with children. Over the years, they continued adding more protected classes.
Today, there are 7 protected characteristics:
- National origin
- Familial status
That said, various states, including Texas, have also passed legislations to add more protected characteristics to the FHA.
So, in Texas, along with the 7 federal protected classes, they also protect the following: age, citizenship status and genetic information.
What are Examples of Violations to the Fair Housing Act?
When it comes to renting out a home, the following are some of the things that may be considered a violation to the Fair Housing Act:
- Advertising or making any statements that indicate preference or limitation based on a protected characteristic.
- Falsely denying the availability of a rental unit.
- Setting more restrictive standards during tenant selection or refusing to rent to people belonging to certain groups.
- Setting different terms and conditions for different tenants, such as adopting an inconsistent policy when responding to late rent payments or requiring larger security deposits from certain tenants.
- Terminating a tenancy based on a discriminatory reason.
Which State Agency is Tasked with Enforcing the Texas Fair Housing Act?
In Texas, the state agency responsible for enforcing the Texas Fair Housing Act is the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC).
What are the Penalties for Violating the Fair Housing Act?
As a landlord, if you violate the FHS, you may face penalties.
For a first violation, you may be levied civil penalties amounting to up to $16,000. For repeated offenders, civil penalties may go up to $65,000. And in cases where the Department of Justice is involved, the costs can go up to $100,000.
How can Landlords Avoid Violating the Fair Housing Act?
Here are some of the ways you can avoid violating the FHA in Texas:
- Ensure your screening processes are consistent. Use the same qualifying standards for every tenant. So, if you require a certain documentation from one tenant, make sure you require the same from others. That’s why, as a landlord, you should have a standard tenant screening checklist.
- Create a legal rental ad. Avoid including the following type of statements in your rental ad: “Must have working income,” “Suitable for a Quiet Couple,” and “Perfect for Singles.” While they may seem innocent, they are actually discriminatory. To avoid making such statements accidentally, focus more on describing your property’s features rather than the ideal tenant you’re looking for.
- Be objective in your qualifying standards. Your grounds for rejecting a tenant’s application should be based on their failure to meet your qualifying standards and nothing else.
Which Questions Should You Avoid when Screening Tenants?
The following are a few questions you want to avoid during the tenant screening process:
- How many kids do you have? Whether you think it’s innocent small talk, or an ice breaker, a tenant may take it the wrong way. They may think that you don’t like renting to tenants with a certain number of kids.
- What is your first language? A person’s first language has nothing to do with renting a property. So, stay away from this question. Also, don’t forget, national origin is a protected class under the Fair Housing Act!
- Are you a Christian? If you ask this question, a tenant may assume that you don’t rent to non-Christians. Religion is a protected characteristic.
- Is that a service dog? As casual as it may seem, this question can land you in legal trouble.
- When do you plan on retiring? Age is a protected characteristic under the FHA, so don’t ask questions that can give away someone’s age.
Which Questions Should You Ask when Screening Tenants?
Instead, here are some questions that you could ask your tenants. These question won’t violate the FHA!
- When do you plan on moving in?
- Are you ready to pay the move in costs?
- Have you ever violated the terms of the lease agreement?
- Why are you moving?
- How many people will be living with you?
- Do you smoke?
- Do you have a pet?
- How much income do you make per month?
- Have you ever been convicted of a relevant crime?
Be sure to ask every prospective tenant these same questions!
Treating your Texas tenants respectfully, equally and fairly is key to the long-term success of your rental investment.
We hope this article about the Texas Fair Housing Act was helpful for you!
Disclaimer: Please note that this blog should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed attorney in Texas. Laws frequently change, and this post might not be updated at the time of your reading.