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Fair Housing - Following the Law is Vital for Kansas City Property Owners and Managers

It can be a little confusing trying to understand the ins and outs of the Fair Housing Act, but for property managers and owners, it’s an absolute must. Local governments can have even more stringent regulations than the federal act, so it’s a good idea for property owners and managers to know their local laws, too. It’s always a good idea to check with local housing authorities or seek the advice of a professional attorney in your area before setting out to market a property for rental.

As a general rule of thumb, the federal act covers a lot of basics property managers and owners need to know before they try to lease out a rental. The law itself is pretty straightforward and in essence is simple. Basically, it states that anyone who has a property for rent cannot discriminate based on race, color, religion, creed and so on. Discrimination based on these things is not tolerated under the federal act.

Here are some basic points brought up by the Fair Housing Act you should know before seeking residents:

  • The act prohibits discrimination in housing whether rental or sales on the basis of race or color, country of origin, religion, sex, family status or handicap.
  • The act covers most types of housing, but in some cases owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, single-family housing sold or rented without using a broker and housing operated by organizations or private clubs might be exempt. To find out if your property is exempt, check with an attorney or other expert
  • Under the act, it is prohibited to do the following things based on color, race, country of origin, sex, family status, religion or handicap: It is unlawful to refuse to rent or sell, to refuse to negotiate, to make a dwelling unavailable, to deny a dwelling, set different terms or conditions and falsely deny that housing is available.
  • It is also illegal for a property owner or manager to threaten, coerce, intimidate or interfere with anyone wanting to rent a property.
  • No advertisements can make preferential statements about tenant choice based on race, color, origin, religion, handicap, sex or family status. This does apply to owner-occupied housing and single-family property that might otherwise be exempt from the Fair Housing Act. It’s very important that all advertising in relation to a rental be free of any language that might be construed as preferential to one person or another. When in doubt, leave a word out. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Under the act, people with disabilities are afforded a few more protections that you should be familiar with as well. Those with physical or mental disabilities must be allowed to make reasonable modifications to a dwelling or common area at their expense to accommodate their handicap. A property owner or manager must also make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices and so on to enable a handicap person to use the property. Examples of this include, allowing guide dogs when pets are not allowed or creating a reserved space for a handicapped tenant to accommodate parking.

Property managers or owners who are in the process of constructing new buildings should be very familiar with the act. Since 1991, it has been the law that public and common areas must be accessible to people with disabilities. Doors and hallways should be wide enough for wheelchairs, all units must have handicapped accessible light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and more. Kitchens and bathrooms must be useable by people in wheelchairs. A lot of times these things will already be built into local building codes, but make sure your property will meet the muster before you build by checking and double checking federal, state and local laws. Ask an attorney or building expert to review your plans before the ground is broken to cover yourself later.

When it comes to families, all properties other than those that qualify as senior housing, must allow children under the age of 18. Those properties that qualify as senior housing must receive government approval to be called such.

The federal act basically serves to protect people who are looking to lease or buy from unfair discrimination. It’s up to you as a property manager or owner to know the law and any local ordinances that might apply as well. To learn more about the act itself, go online to US Department of Housing and Urban Development. For information about local laws, check with government housing agencies or seek the advice of an attorney.

by Tiffany Lewis, Kansas City Premier Apartments, Inc.

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