Disclaimer: Please note that the information provided in this blog is intended for general guidance and should not be considered as a replacement for professional legal advice. It is important to be aware that laws pertaining to property management may change, rendering this information outdated by the time you read it.
Tennessee landlords have a responsibility to abide by the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The act requires that landlords and other housing providers like home sellers and mortgage lenders treat their clients fairly and correctly. This is in an effort to prevent housing discrimination.
As a Tennessee landlord, understanding the provisions of the Fair Housing Laws will help you run a successful investment business in Tennessee. After all, a tenant that feels respected and treated fairly is more likely to abide by their responsibilities.
In today’s blog, we at Brentwood Square Management will walk you through everything you need to know about the Fair Housing Laws to prevent housing discrimination issues.
What is the Fair Housing Act?
The Fair Housing Law was passed by Congress in 1968. Its goal is to expand on the landlord-tenant laws by addressing issues of racial discrimination in the sale and rental of housing. The act prevents housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and nationality.
However, since its passage, there have been several amendments made to further expand on the original list. Disability and familial status were added several years later. Also, some states have also passed legislation to add extra protections against housing discrimination. The state's anti-discrimination laws, however, don't include these provisions.
What are the protected classes of the Tennessee Fair Housing Act?
The Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 protects tenants and home buyers on the basis of 7 protected classes. That is, race, color, sex, nationality, religion, disability, gender, and familial status.
Some states have also passed legislation to expand on this list of protections provided under the federal act. But Tennessee isn’t one of these states.
What government organ enforces the Fair Housing Act in Tennessee?
The government organ tasked with handling all housing discrimination cases in Tennessee is the Tennessee Human Rights Commission. The work the commission does is to investigate claims of discrimination not only in housing, but also in employment and public administration as well.
Are there exceptions to the Tennessee Fair Housing Act?
Yes, there are some exceptions in certain instances. The exceptions to the Fair Housing Laws are as follows:
- Housing operated by private clubs and religious organizations.
- Single-family homes that are sold or rented by the owner without using an agent.
- Owner-occupied buildings that have a maximum of four units.
What actions can qualify as discriminatory under the Fair Housing Laws?
The following are examples of behaviors that can qualify as discriminatory as per the Fair Housing Laws:
- Steering tenants away to certain neighborhoods based on their race, color, religion, familial status, disability, or sex.
- Evicting a tenant because of a protected class.
- Asking discriminatory questions to tenants during the tenant screening process. For instance, it’d be discriminatory to ask a tenant questions such as whether they are married or how many children they have.
- Harassing or intimidating tenants.
- Saying a unit isn’t available when it actually is.
- Treating tenants differently because of a protected class like disability or familial status. You cannot, for instance, enforce different rules for tenants living in the same unit. You must treat all tenants respectfully, equally and fairly.
- Turning down a tenant’s application on the basis of a protected class.
- Breaking a lease on the basis of a protected class.
- Marketing your vacant unit, the wrong way. Of course, as a landlord, you have the right to choose the tenants you want. However, in doing so, you must ensure that the language in your ad is free from any discriminatory statements. Such statements include “this unit is perfect for a couple without kids,” and “looking for a young family to rent to.”
What are the penalties for violating the Fair Housing Laws?
Should housing discrimination occur, inadvertently or not, you would risk the following civil penalties: First violators risk a penalty amounting of up to $16,000 and increases to a whopping $65,000 for third violations. The amount can also go as high as a staggering $150,000 if the case is brought about by the Justice Department.
What are the legal reasons for rejecting a prospective tenant?
As already mentioned, landlords have a right to choose the kind of tenants they want in their Tennessee property. However, the process must be devoid of bias on the basis of the 7 protected classes per the Fair Housing Laws. As a landlord, you can consider the following when screening a prospective tenant.
- Credit history
- Tenany History
- Employment history
- Credit rating
- Income level
What can a landlord do to avoid potential housing discrimination lawsuits?
As you can see, committing Tennessee Fair Housing Law violations by discriminating against your tenant can be costly. It can also take a toll on your reputation as a landlord. The following are some of the things you can do to make each tenant feel they have been treated fairly.
- Treat all tenants equally regardless of their protected classes like disability, race, color, religion, sex, and nationality
- Have a standard tenant screening process.
- Advertise your vacant unit properly.
- Hire a property manager to help you rent out your property and manage potentially difficult financial situations like a security deposit.
For expert help with the Tennessee Fair Housing laws or any other aspect of the Tennessee landlord-tenant act as a whole, Brentwood Square Management Services, Inc. can help.
We are a full-service property management company, specializing in managing single-family homes, multi-family units, condos, apartments, and even commercial properties. Get in touch to learn more!