An Easthampton, Massachusetts landlord currently is facing a discrimination claim because of something he said about children — and the way he said it.
In this case, the landlord is accused of discouraging a family with small children from taking a third-floor apartment.
According to the applicants, the landlord said he would never rent an upper-level apartment to a family with children. He then allegedly chastised the parents for wanting to take such a risk.
After the applicants complained to a fair housing office, a housing tester posing as an applicant with a child applied for an apartment. The tester claims that the landlord said he would not rent to anyone with a child.
It is not uncommon for landlords to run afoul of the Fair Housing Act by making statements that they feel are in the best interest of the child. Yet, the simply reality is that treating families with children any differently than any other applicant can get landlords in hot water.
Here are some general tips that can make it easier to screen rental applicants with children:
1. Prosecuting discrimination claims on behalf of families is a high priority for housing advocates. Housing testers investigating a landlord are indistinguishable from actual rental applicants. Even small landlord businesses may be investigated, so it’s important for all landlords to know the limits.
2. Rental ads can be discriminatory even if they don’t specifically exclude children. Stating a preference for “professionals” or “singles” or focusing on those amenities that are adult-oriented can be interpreted as discrimination.
3. When meeting new tenants, it’s important to treat everyone the same. That means asking the same questions of each applicant regarding qualifications. Don’t go off script.
4. When it comes to families with children, a landlord must leave it up to tenants to decide whether a property is right for them. Parents get to choose where they want to live with their children. It is not legal for the landlord to second-guess those decisions.
5. Also, tone matters when interviewing rental applicants, as this recent case highlights. A negative or condescending tone can be intimidating, which is a factor in discrimination claims.
6. All rental properties must be safe for any tenant or visitor, including children. The condition of the rental property cannot be used to justify discrimination against families with young children, and excluding children does not change a landlord’s duty to meet any health or safety standards, such as lead paint remediation, or safe balconies.
7. It’s not only the tenant screening process that can give rise to discrimination. Failure to renew a lease, adding new lease conditions, or unfair treatment of current tenants because of their children also is illegal. That’s why it is important to treat all tenants the same. Rules that restrict only children, like curfews or limited access to areas around the property, can be discriminatory.
While landlords cannot reject an applicant because he or she has a child, landlords do not have to rent to any applicants who are not qualified for the property. In fact, the only distinction landlords should make when evaluating rental applicants is to determine who is qualified.
This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.