HOW TO SPOT DISCRIMINATORY HOUSING ADS

If you are looking for a new place to live, then you likely are going to be looking at advertisements for new places to live. While landlords are not allowed to discriminate when announcing rental vacancies, it can happen. So let’s take a look at what those discriminatory ads might look like and then talk about what you can do about it.

Families with Children (“Familial Status”)

In the old days, it was not uncommon for an apartment complex to state in an advertisement, “Sorry, no children!” But in 1988 familial status was added to the list of protected categories under the Fair Housing Act. Why? Because families with young children were having trouble finding places to live. Also, landlords were using the excuse of having children to discriminate against people because of race or national origin. For example, if the landlord didn’t like a certain race, then it was much easier for the landlord to discriminate against those people based on their race by simply claiming that the landlord normally would rent to them, but since they had young children, the landlord wasn’t going to rent to them. Obviously, this was a problem that needed to be fixed, so Congress added the category of “familial status” to try to stop both problems.

What is “familial status” anyway? It’s a status. For example, what is your marital status? Are you single or married? What is your employment status? Are you working or not? When it comes to familial status, people who live together are either “familial” or not. Simply put, to fall within the category of “familial status,” the people who live together must consist of: a child (under 18 years old) living with either: 1) a parent or parents; 2) a lawful guardian; or 3) someone who has written permission to have that child live with them (think of someone like a grandparent). Let me give you a few examples: 1) a 14-year old daughter living with her mom would fall within “familial status.” 2) three college students living together would not fall within the classification of “familial status,” for none of them is a child. 3) parents living with their 18-year old son would not be classified under “familial status” because their son is over 18 years old. Normally, it is easy to determine if a group of people living together falls within the protected category, but some living arrangements can be messy.

Ads stating things such as, “ideal for working professionals,” arguably indicate a preference for adults only. So, too, do ads that declare an apartments is “perfect for single or couple.” The implication? The apartment is not perfect for a family with children. Finally, ads that proclaim: “nice, quiet, mature, neighborhood” seem okay at first blush. But when you start to think about the ad, “quiet” and “mature” arguably indicate that children are not welcome.

Race/Color

Ads stating a preference for one race or another are clearly unlawful. But these types of ads can be blatant (“no blacks”) or subtle (“nice, Asian community”). Either way, they are unlawful.

Religion

Advertisements that openly express a preference (“Christian couple preferred”), limitation (“Muslims only”), or discrimination (“no Jews”) are all illegal. Likewise, ads that describe current residents (“nice Jewish community”) or the neighborhood (“near the mosque”) may be illegal, for they seem to indicate a preference for a certain type of tenant.

Sex

When it comes to advertisements that state a preference for one sex over the other, then there is an exception. But first, let’s see what a discriminatory ad based on sex might look like. An ad that states “female preferred” is a classic example of a discriminatory ad.

But if the vacancy that is being announced is one for a roommate, then it is okay for the ad to limit applicants to one sex. It is not illegal for a person to look for a roommate of a certain sex. This makes sense. Imagine two young, college women who rent an apartment off campus. One of the women graduates and the other woman wants a new roommate. She is not required to rent to the first person who meets the qualifications (sorry, guys). She can lawfully choose to rent only to another woman.

National Origin

In this day and age, national origin has become a hot political issue. Thus ads that state things such as “no immigrants” or “no foreigners” or “Mexicans preferred” will likely be deemed illegal by courts. Advertisements that appear in a language other than English may be illegal because they are indirectly indicating a preference for someone who speaks that language. For example, if an ad only is in Korean, then it may be proved that the landlord illegally preferred Koreans over other tenants. Also, ads that describe current residents (“quiet Korean community”) or the neighborhood (“predominantly Chinese neighborhood”) may be illegal.

Handicap/Disability

When the Fair Housing Act was amended in 1988 to add familial status as a protected category, Congress also added the category of handicap as a protected category. Nowadays, it is more common to use the term “disabled” instead of “handicap,” but the technical category is handicap.

At any rate, advertisements that state such things as “no wheelchairs” or “able-body people only” or “must be able to live independently” are unlawful. Likewise, ads that describe the apartment complex as unable to accommodate people with disabilities (e.g., “units are not accessible”, “no pets, even seeing eye dogs”) are also unlawful.

Conclusion

If you have run into a discriminatory ad, then what can you do about it? First, you should report the unlawful ad to publisher of that ad (whether that be Craigslist, an internet provider, social media, newspaper), so that it can be removed.

Next, you might want to complain to a local fair housing agency, so that it can investigate the matter. The fair housing agency may have had other complaints about this landlord, so it may decide to pursue an action against the landlord.

Finally, Thomas Jefferson said, “Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.” Put simply, unless potential tenants do something about landlords who make discriminatory ads, then they will continue to do so. If you want to do something, then you may choose to file a claim with HUD (202) 708-1112 or California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”) (800) 884-1684. Or you can contact a fair housing attorney to assist you in filing a claim of housing discrimination against the landlord. The choice is yours.

Know When to Seek the Help of a Fair Housing Lawyer

The Fair Housing Act is a set of rules aimed at governing and eliminating discrimination in real estate transactions (i.e., leases, rentals, sales, advertisements). If you are a landlord or a tenant, chances are you already may have dealt with the law in one way or another. For example, fair housing laws give you the right to equal treatment when you are renting or buying. But the fair housing laws also impact what landlords can do when they are looking for new tenants, such as who they can refuse to consider and on what basis.

This post is aimed to put some light on the fair housing act and when to seek the help of a professional fair housing lawyer.

Property Advertisement      

Advertising is the usual first step to making a property available for rent, and tenants search ads, whether they are in print or online. Landlords want to promote their property on the best platforms, so that they gain access to the most potential tenants. These tenants can then check the specifications of the property to make informed decisions. The key for a landlord, however, is to ensure that its ads are lawful.

Here are some common statements that you must avoid.

  • No families with young children;
  • No Muslims;
  • No pets (including emotional support animals).

A landlord who using any of these statements in its rental advertisement, may be violating the fair housing laws. If in doubt, then it is smart to connect with a fair housing lawyer, so that expensive litigation can be avoided.

Tenant Screening

Landlords want to be sure that they are choosing the best tenants for their property. Good tenants are good for everyone. However, landlords sometimes do it the wrong way and ask some screening questions that may be unlawful (or used as evidence of possible discrimination).

Questions to be avoided in the screening process include:

  • Where is your accent from?
  • Do you have a service dog?
  • How old are your children?
  • What religion are you?

It is important for landlords to be fair to everyone when choosing tenants. Landlords should follow the same process for screening every potential tenant, regardless of their race, color, religion, sex, etc. One potential tenant should not be required to come in for a personal interview, while other potential tenants are permitted to be interviewed over the phone.

Eviction Process

Not every disagreement between a landlord and a tenant justifies an eviction. Again, potential evictions must be handled uniformly. So if one white tenant blares his music at 1 a.m. on a Friday and is simply given a warning notice, then if a tenant of color does the same thing the following weekend, that tenant also should receive a warning notice. Different treatment with similar circumstances is often one of the biggest indicators of unlawful discrimination.

Whether you are a tenant or a landlord, it is important to be aware of fair housing laws. The best way to protect your rights as a tenant is to hire a fair housing lawyer.