The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) reflects and incorporates the federal Fair Housing Act and the Texas Fair Housing Act. Through education, outreach, training, program administration, monitoring, and rule provision, TDHCA has a mission to ensure that its housing and assistance programs are compliant with all the fair housing requirements and regulations that come down through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Killeen rental property owners need to understand all state, federal, and local fair housing laws. Not only do you have to understand them, but you also have to comply with them. You have many federal fair housing laws that must be complied with throughout the leasing and management process. The state laws are exactly the same; you cannot discriminate against someone who is in a protected class.
You might not imagine any scenario in which you’d ever discriminate against a tenant. You might not realize that something you’re saying in your marketing or something you’re doing during the screening process is potentially discriminatory. That’s why it’s so important to understand what these laws include.
Fair housing violations are expensive, and they’ll also seriously damage your reputation as a landlord. Make sure you understand fair housing requirements so you can avoid potential risk, liability, and lawsuits.
Federal and State Fair Housing Laws
The Federal Fair Housing Act was enacted to make housing discrimination illegal. This affects every part of the real estate and property management industry, including sales, rentals, and property financing. This law also protects consumers who are obtaining insurance or other housing-related professional services.
HUD enforces fair housing laws by investigating complaints from individuals and community organizations across the country. When HUD opens an investigation, it’s because a complaint has been made, and the agency has determined it has credibility. Their investigation will determine whether any housing discrimination has occurred, and if you are found to have violated a fair housing law, the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division can bring the case to Federal Court.
The maximum penalty currently for your first offense is $16,000.
Discrimination and Fair Housing for Killeen Rentals
Seven protected classes are impacted by the laws. The federal Fair Housing Act and the Texas Fair Housing Act prevent you from discriminating against tenants or applicants based on:
- Familial status
- National origin
The Texas Fair Housing Act does not provide new protected classes as some states do. Depending on where in Texas you’re renting out a home, there may be additional protections in place. None exist in Killeen specifically; local laws follow the state and federal laws.
What do these fair housing laws mean to you, as a Killeen landlord who is committed to staying in compliance? It means you cannot ask certain questions during the showing or screening process:
- You are not allowed to ask for a potential tenant’s age.
- Do not ask if an applicant goes to church.
- You are not allowed to ask potential renters how many kids they have.
- Do not advertise that you’re only renting to women.
- You cannot ask a tenant with a Seeing-Eye-Dog why the animal is necessary.
- You cannot ask a tenant “where they come from” if you detect an accent.
Some of your inquiries may seem innocent to you. It may seem strange that you cannot say your property is “perfect for single professionals” when you’re advertising a studio condo in an office-friendly neighborhood. But, that type of language is discriminatory, and it could lead to a complaint.
Fair Housing and Advertising a Killeen Rental Home
You’ve heard some examples of language you can and cannot use when advertising your property. However, it’s important to really understand how easy it is to make a fair housing mistake without intending to. A simple question or an off-hand remark could make a tenant feel like you would not be treating them fairly in the application process or during the tenancy.
Marketing is important, and it has to be strategic. It also relies a lot on language. Choose your language carefully.
You employ marketing strategies in order to attract tenants to your property. To rent out your property quickly to great tenants and for the most amount of money, you want to launch an aggressive marketing campaign. Make sure all of your listings, marketing materials, and signs comply with fair housing laws.
When you’re marketing your rental home, here are the details you can lawfully include in your listing:
- How large the home is – how many square feet it has, how many bedrooms and bathrooms there are inside of the property, and whether there’s outdoor space.
- The amount of rent and how much of a security deposit will be collected.
- When the home will be ready for move-in.
- Benefits of the home itself; good lighting, great location, updated kitchen, new windows, a fenced backyard, etc.
You cannot use language that indicates you are looking for a particular type of tenant. You cannot say anything that references any of those protected classes that we’ve been discussing.
- Do not say that your property is close to churches or mosques or synagogues.
- Do not say it’s perfect for families.
- Don’t call it a bachelor pad.
This is the type of language that can get you in legal hot water because it may be seen as discriminatory against several of the law’s protected classes.
Keep your rental property marketing accessible to everyone who is qualified to rent your home. Don’t talk about what types of tenants you would “prefer.”
Screening Killeen Tenants with Fair Housing in Mind
Screening tenants needs to be objective and consistent. It’s easy to make a fair housing mistake with your screening process.
One important tool that will protect you during your screening process is a set of standard rental criteria or qualifications. Put these criteria in writing and provide them to any tenant who is interested in filling out an application. Then, make sure you follow your own standards consistently every time you screen a potential tenant.
When you use technology and resources to automate and modernize your screening process, you’ll be able to protect yourself from potential fair housing missteps. A landlord who sits down and manually looks into the background of each applicant will likely fall back on assumptions and prejudices that they don’t even realize they have. When you’re using technology, software, and a third-party screening company, you’re not in danger of letting your personal opinions and preferences creep in. Everything is consistent and automated.
Screen every application against the same standards and requirements. Denying one applicant because of a 550 credit score is not going to hold up in court if the tenant you eventually place has a 525 credit score. Be consistent and document the entire process.
Set up the standards you seek in terms of credit, income, criminal history, and rental references. This will make it easy for you to move through the application process because you’ll know exactly who is approved and who is not just by looking at the data. It’s objective and protects you against any potential claims of discrimination.
There’s another federal law to follow during the screening process. Don’t forget to follow the Fair Credit Reporting Act guidelines when you approve or deny a tenant. The denial needs to be in writing, and specific language must be included, especially if the denial is due to credit criteria.
What to Know about Service and Companion Animals
The area of fair housing law that is changing the most is probably the area of disabilities. Tenants who have physical, intellectual, or emotional disabilities are changing the way landlords work with animals. This is an area of the law that is always evolving, and you need to stay up to date as best you can.
Renting out a home in Killeen, you have the choice to allow pets or not allow pets. There are no laws that protect pet owners. You can put together a strong pet policy or you can simply say a firm no to any and all pets.
However, you cannot deny tenants service or support animals. Fair housing laws do not consider those animals to be pets. They are, instead, accommodations. They are to be treated less like pets and more like wheelchair ramps or shower seats.
Because of fair housing protections, you must allow service animals and companion animals. You cannot charge a pet fee or pet rent.
There’s a difference between service and companion animals and you need to know the difference because it impacts what you can and cannot ask in terms of documentation. Service animals are always dogs. Companion animals can be any type of animal and they are often emotional support animals that help people cope.
Fair housing laws can be difficult to navigate, and they change frequently. If you don’t have the time or resources to stay up to date on these requirements, get help from a professional Killeen property management company so you can adequately protect yourself and your investment. We’d be happy to help, so contact us at Shine Residential Management.
A property management company based in Harker Heights, Shine Residential Management cares for exceptional single-family homes throughout Central Texas, including in Killeen, Temple, Belton, Copperas Cove, Salado, and Georgetown.