Refresh of the Fair Housing Act of 1988 for Landlords

April 9, 2019

Both first-time and long-time landlords need to know about the Fair Housing Act of 1988. It puts into place a number of stipulations intended to prevent discrimination against people with mental or physical handicaps. The Act stems from a good place. However, people can attempt to use the protection of this Act to levy frivolous lawsuits against landlords.

This article will serve as a refresher on the Fair Housing Act of 1988, helping landlords better understand the sort of language that needs to be worked into or out of a lease or sublease agreement. This will help protect landlords from potential legal action.


What is the Fair Housing Act of 1988?

The Act of 1988 is actually an amendment to a pre-existing housing law, the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA). This law states the following:

Serving as an amendment to Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 – which prevents discrimination in housing sales, financing, or rentals based on someone’s gender, race, nation of origin, religion, and skin color –  the 1988 amendment updated this law to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities or special needs, as well as families with children. All of these groups are classified as “protected classes” whose rights are to be upheld.

landlord-resources-blueground fair housing act 1988 homeowner happy after receiving transfer right

The primary purpose of the amendment was to put a stop to housing-related discrimination against people with disabilities. This includes both physical and mental disabilities. The exact verbiage includes any person who has a mental or physical impairment, has a record of having a mental or physical impairment, or is viewed as having one or more impairments limiting common life activities such as seeing, hearing, breathing, walking, and caring for oneself. The list of impairments extended to include people who are unable to work, and those with recorded learning disabilities.

The definition of a person with a handicap can be found in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 504 was amended to include all of the conditions listed above. Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 reinforced this act. It was a civil rights law that prohibits all forms of discrimination based on disability.


Which types of properties does it cover?

Some of the rental properties covered include condos, mobile homes, and timeshares. The list also includes trailer parks, cooperatives, and units designated or used as a residence.

This law also applies to parcels of land or vacant properties which are sold or leased as a residential property. The law is written in a very comprehensive, definitive way that prevents landowners and landlords from being discriminatory in their practices.


How does it affect landlords today?

Fair Housing portion of the Civil Rights Act clearly outlines landlord-tenant relationships. A landlord is not permitted to:

  • Falsely deny that a rental unit is available or indicate that the unit is unavailable to a person based on perceived or obvious physical or mental disabilities.
  • Advertise or make any statement indicating rental restrictions to anyone based on skin color, gender, race, religion, physical or mental disability, or any of the other categories protected under the Civil Rights Act.
  • Restrict rentals to certain groups of people, or pose more restrictive rental standards for protected categories.
  • Force certain groups of people to put down larger rental or security deposits, or show more leniency toward a particular group in regards to late rental payments.
  • Set different or unfair terms or conditions for a rental unit based on someone’s race, religion, skin color, gender, or disability.
  • Terminate a tenant for a discriminatory reason.

In short, a landlord cannot show any form of blatant discrimination to tenants falling under protected categories. Lease agreements are written and enforced in a way that does not indicate a clear bias against or toward a particular group of people.

This is one reason why online leases have become so popular. Adjudging people primarily according to credit scores and criminal history allows landlords to mitigate or eliminate any perceived or suggested biases.

That said, there are still tools that landlords can employ to screen out potential problem tenants in a non-discriminatory way. For instance, landlords can request a reference letter from a renter’s previous landlord. This protects landlords while also adhering to the non-discrimination policies outlined in the Fair Housing Act.


Exemptions from the Fair Housing Act

While the 1988 amendments to the Civil Rights Act are comprehensive and quite ironclad, there are a handful of exemptions. Not that landlords should ever engage in any discriminatory practices, but a few smaller, special circumstances fall outside of federal jurisdiction.

The following types of property are exempt from the Fair Housing Act of 1988:

  • Owner-occupied buildings or units in which four or fewer units are being rented to tenants
  • Specific types of housing associated with a certain religious organization
  • Private or exclusive clubs that limit occupancy to members
  • Single-family housing rented without a real estate broker and without the use of advertising
  • Housing dedicated specifically for senior citizens, such as assisted living retirement communities


Why is it so important for landlords?

While a landlord does not need a law degree or need to be able to interpret the minutiae of the law, the takeaway is that a landlord can’t work discriminatory wording into the terms of a lease agreement. In most cases will need to make reasonable accommodations for people with any of the conditions listed above.

fair housing act 1988 clean spacious living room with plant in the corner and wood coffee table

It’s important for landlords to have a working understanding of the Fair Housing Act of 1988. Modern society has become extremely litigious. If a potential tenant is passed over for non-discriminatory reasons but falls under one of the protected categories, a landlord could find her or himself fending off an unwarranted lawsuit.

Landlords in large metro markets who don’t want to deal with the threat of a potential lawsuit can consider partnering with Blueground as an alternative. Blueground offers an array of elegant, furnished apartments in major international hubs as New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Athens, Dubai, Istanbul and more.

Blueground leases and furnishes high-quality properties, renting them out to senior business travelers on a medium and long-term stay basis. We take a lot of the common problems out of managing a rental property, also optimizing yield and property value. If you are a landlord looking for a better solution, contact Blueground for additional information.

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