Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Fair Housing 101

If you are interested in becoming a real estate investor, it's important to have a clear understanding of Fair Housing issues. If you are sued for a violation of a Fair Housing law, it will be time consuming, energy consuming, and will cost a significant sum - even if you win.

Fair Housing Issues 101

For a more comprehensive guide to these issues, make sure you consult with a lawyer who specializes in landlord tenant laws.

What is Fair Housing?

In a medium-sized nutshell: The Fair Housing act was first implemented in 1960s and was created to prevent landlords and sellers from discriminating against prospective tenants/buyers due to their race, nationality, color, religion, etc. Since then, the act has been a constantly evolving entity, designed to keep landlords, sellers, and other members of the real estate community from using anything other than financial data to facilitate the sell or rental a residence. Currently, it's overseen by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  It is incredibly complex and difficult to understand in its entirety, however failure to understand your tenant/buyer's rights can land you in a heap of trouble. Here are some of the basics:

What types of housing are covered?

Pretty much everything. There are certain circumstances which are excluded, such as a building with four or less units which is owner occupied, residential real estate sold by the owner, rather than a broker, or housing which is owned by a private club/organization which only rents/sells spaces to its own members.

What is Prohibited?

Whew! Here we go...each of the following restrictions applies if they are based on an applicant's race, color, handicap, religion, national origin, sex, or family status:
  • refuse to rent or sell housing
  • deny housing negotiations
  • create different terms, conditions, for sale or rental of a residential space
  • erroneously deny that a space is for sale or rent
  • restrict a person's access to a facility or privilege attached to a dwelling
  • provide unequal housing or facility services
The Fair Housing Act also applies to mortgage brokers and lenders. Based on the same protected groups identified above, mortgage brokers and lenders can't:
  • deny a mortgage or loan without just financial cause
  • refuse to provide information regarding home loan options
  • set differing loan terms, such as interest rates, extra points, or hidden fees
  • refuse to appraise a property
  • create differing terms for purchasing a loan, or refusing to purchase a loan altogether
Similar restrictions and terms apply to multiple areas of the real estate market.

As a landlord, the Fair Housing Act protects your tenants in additional. For example, you cannot refuse to let a handicapped tenant make an appropriate modification to your property. If an individual is a licensed owner of a certified Assistance Dog, you must allow the dog even if you traditionally have a No Pets policy.

If you plan on becoming a real estate investor, understanding the ins and outs of the Fair Housing Act will help to facilitate the road ahead. It is a good idea to consult an attorney to make sure you are doing everything to the letter of the law.


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