As a landlord, you have a duty to treat your tenants, and prospective tenants, with respect, fairness and equality. Tenants have the right to equal opportunity when seeking housing, which means free of discrimination.
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 FHA and answering some commonly asked questions.
What is the FHA?
The Fair Housing Act 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. There are several fair housing requirements under the fair housing laws in order to lessen discrimination housing services as well and ensuring fair housing rights.
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:
- Physical or Mental Disability
- National Origin
- Familial status
What are Examples of Violations to the Fair Housing Act?
When it comes to a sale or rental unit, the following are some of the things that may be considered discriminatory housing practices under the Federal Fair Housing Act or fair housing law to enforce fair housing right for every person:
- Advertising or making any statements that indicate preference or limitation based on a protected characteristic. Advertising discrimination applies as a violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act.
- Falsely denying the availability of a rental unit to a person
- Setting more restrictive standards during tenant selection or refusing to rent to people belonging to certain groups or due to familial status
- 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 based on Race Color Religion Sex
- Refusing to make reasonable accommodations or reasonable modifications to the unit for a disabled person or mobility impaired tenant
Which State Agency is Tasked with Enforcing the Texas FHA?
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, any housing providers may face penalties if they violate the FHA.
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?
Landlords need to do their best to avoid Fair Housing complaints. Here are some of the ways you can avoid housing discrimination and 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 home's features rather than the ideal tenant or person 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 that could be considered as discriminatory housing that 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 and imply you have a bias towards a tenant's familial status. They may think that you don’t like renting to tenants with a certain number of kids. You can limit occupancy for your sale or rental unit, but this is regardless of the familial status of your tenants.
- What is your first language? A person’s first language has nothing to do with renting a home. 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, as people with blindness or such a disability cannot be denied tenancy due to their mental or physical disability. You also have to be prepared to make reasonable accommodations for a tenant, but only if they ask you to.
- 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 without being at risk of housing discrimination. These questions 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! Also, make sure you don't offer different housing services to different tenants, as that wouldn't adhere to each tenant's rights.
Treating your Texas tenants respectfully, equally and fairly without any discrimination is key to the long-term success of your rental investment.
We hope this article about the Texas FHA 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.