Landlords in Trouble Over Online Ads

by Chris on August 8, 2011

In the past month alone, HUD has announced that it has filed costly lawsuits against two separate landlords for discrimination, one involving race, the other families with children.

There was a common thread to both cases: the authorities discovered the discrimination by reading through local Craigslist ads.

Over the past few years, housing websites have become an increasingly popular way to both advertise and look for housing.

Unfortunately, a number of online ads, especially those for smaller rental housing units, contain statements that are either directly or potentially discriminatory.

Generally, most landlords want to comply with housing-related laws, and often don’t realize the ads lead to discrimination.

Here are a few examples of inappropriate statements:

“Adult building” or “Not suitable for children”
“Must provide proof of employment”
“No Section 8.”
“Seeking mature couple.”
“Married couples only.”

These ads discriminate because they show the landlord’s preference to rent to some people over others based on grounds like marital or family status, age, or disability.  Likewise, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of source of income in many areas around the country, which may include income  from student loans, a disability program, pension or retirement funds.

Sometimes ads discriminate by accident. For example, some landlords, list “selling points” to attract tenants, but make statements that may discriminate even if they don’t mean to. This often happens when landlords are trying to appeal to people you think may like the rental unit.

For instance:

“Ideal for quiet couple.”
“Suitable for single professional.”
“Perfect for female student.”
“Suits mature individual or couple.”
“Great for working professionals.”
“Near Lutheran Church.”

These statements can discourage applicants who otherwise have the right to apply for the rental.

Also, look out for policies or restrictions which could eliminate some applicants.  “Absolutely no pets” leaves no room for persons with disabilities who use service animals such as guide dogs.

One easy way to avoid discriminatory language is to describe the unit, not the tenant. Instead of naming the ”ideal” person  for the unit, list the rent, size and other information about the unit itself, the building, and nearby services that may appeal to all tenants.

For example, a landlord renting a small unit might be tempted to say “Perfect apartment for a student” or “Ideal for a single professional.”  But that would exclude other qualified applicants, such as a couple, a single parent, a senior or a person receiving assistance.  They may fear they will be rejected so they won’t apply.

That’s not to say the landlord can’t make the place seem attractive. Instead of focusing on who might apply, describe the property as  “bright, cozy, new kitchen cabinets, full bath, access to storage locker, shared laundry in friendly 5-unit building. $750 per month including utilities. Bus stop on corner. Close to schools, park, shops.”

Source of Income Discrimination

Applicants don’t have to be working to have money to pay the rent. Research shows that people living on housing assistance, pensions or retirement income are just as likely to pay their rent as people who are working.

Income information should be reviewed in conjunction with any other available information on rental history, credit references and credit checks in choosing a qualified applicant.

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).

Click Here to Receive Landlord Credit Reports.

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.

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