Every landlord in New York has probably heard of or is familiar with the Fair Housing Act (FHA). You may think that having a basic understanding of FHA is good enough, but to make sure you are never sued for violating FHA laws, there are several things you should know about FHA to protect your property and investment.
History of FHA
The FHA was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 after the riots that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The current version of FHA was meant to be an expansion of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which prohibited discrimination in housing but was never federally enforced.
In short, New York and federal laws regarding FHA say that any housing provider cannot discriminate against protected classes of a current or potential buyer.
Understand Protected Classes
According to New York FHA laws, discrimination is prohibited against the following:
- family status
- gender/gender identity
- source of income
- marital status
- national origin
- partnership status
- race, and
- sexual orientation.
Fair housing laws are meant to ensure that all individuals have equal housing opportunities.
How Should Rental Properties in New York be Advertised?
A rental property should be advertised in a fair way for all applicants. Advertisements should not include statements like, “Perfect for a single person,” or “House is located in a predominantly mature neighborhood” because that would be considered discrimination against married couples (in the first example) or a person with children (in the second example).
Just stick to the facts about the property, such as, “One bedroom, one bath,” which should indicate it is too small for a family of four.
Screen All Prospective Tenants the Same in New York
Running a background check on potential renters is one of the best things you can do to make sure you will have a successful relationship. It is imperative that you treat all applicants the same: do not run background checks on some potential renters but not others. Don't ask whether the applicant is married or has children (instead, just ask how many occupants there will be living in the residence). And finally, don't ask whether the applicant has a service dog—it could be construed to mean you're asking if they have a disability.
Reasonably Accommodate People with Disabilities
You cannot ask prospective tenants if they have a mental or physical disability. If, however, they disclose an issue after they move in, you will be expected to make reasonable modifications to your property to accommodate them. This could mean installing grab bars in the shower or a wheelchair ramp.
Keep Detailed Records on the Lease and Interactions with Tenants
Always keep good, clean records of your lease with the tenant and document your interactions with the tenant in unbiased, nonjudgmental language. If you decide to terminate the lease or even evict a tenant, you want to make sure they don't claim that you violated a FHA law. Having clean records will go a long way to show that you followed the letter of the law and did not discriminate.
Melvin Monachan, New York Attorney at Law
If you have any questions or concerns about the Fair Housing Act laws, Melvin Monachan can assist. Initial consultations are free, so call 516-714-5763 or fill out a contact form right away.