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Finding Tenants, Landlord-Tenant Law

Laws Against Racial Discrimination in Housing

Despite laws against the practice, there’s no question that racial discrimination in housing is still a major problem. Discrimination can make it more difficult for people to find housing in a desirable neighborhood — or even to find quality housing at all. A big issue for tenants is that discrimination can be difficult to prove. However, when a landlord shows a pattern of discrimination, tenants are more likely to win a case.

Although property owners are specifically prohibited from specifying what kinds of tenants they want, racial discrimination is a problem on rental listing sites. This is because landlords can still use language that has racial undertones, which can dissuade certain people from even applying.

To end this kind of discrimination, it’s up to landlords to take action. Not only is this the moral thing to do, but it could also protect you from lawsuits in the future.

Racial Discrimination Toward Tenants

Racial discrimination in housing comes in several forms, including who homeowners choose to sell to, what kinds of mortgages prospective buyers are able to receive, and who tenants choose to rent from. However, landlord discrimination against tenants is one of the most widespread types of housing discrimination. Plus, it can occur at any step of the rental process — from searching for a unit to ending the lease.

For instance, an undercover investigation in the Greater Boston area found several examples of rental housing discrimination. Landlords showed black people fewer apartments than they did white people and gave them fewer incentives to rent. Real estate agents were also more likely to cut contact when a prospective renter gave a black-sounding name.

What Are the Laws That Forbid Racial Discrimination Toward Tenants?

Various federal, state, and local laws forbid tenant discrimination. The most significant is the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibits discrimination against tenants and homebuyers due to their race, color, religion, or nationality.

As an example of a state’s law, landlords in New York are not allowed to ask about a potential tenant’s criminal record. New York City also has more specific local laws, which include the prohibition of discrimination on terms including immigration status, lawful occupation, and ethnic hairstyles. Other states have regulations about eliciting information about belonging to a protected class and discouraging tenants from renting due to members of protected class living in the neighborhood.

Housing Inequality in the U.S.

Although studies have found an overall trend toward a decline in discrimination since 1989, this does not mean that discrimination has ceased to be a problem. In fact, 45 percent of African Americans and 31 percent of Latinos report having experienced housing discrimination compared to just 5 percent of whites.

Whereas blatant discrimination is less common, it is present in many more surreptitious forms. For example, African Americans and Hispanics often receive less information and are treated less favorably compared to white renters. This creates additional costs associated with searching for housing and leads to fewer choices.

What Is Considered Racial Discrimination?

Since housing discrimination can take various forms, it’s important to be aware of them all to ensure there’s no chance you could be accused of racial discrimination.

The Fair Housing Act defines discrimination as:

  • Specifying preferences for tenants in advertisements
  • Claiming a unit you are renting is unavailable
  • Changing selection standards for different prospective tenants
  • Refusing to rent to someone because they belong to a protected group
  • Setting separate terms for different tenants
  • Terminating a lease due to a tenant’s race

To put this into perspective, the following are some common examples of racial discrimination.

Leading Renters to Certain Properties

Landlords and real estate agents must show tenants properties according to renters’ needs and preferences. It is discrimination to show renters properties in a particular neighborhood due to their race.

Treating Tenants Differently According to Their Ethnicity

Landlords and property managers are required to treat all tenants equally. Being rude or unfriendly to certain tenants could be construed as racial discrimination.

Lying About Why a Tenant Application Was Declined

To deny a prospective tenant, a landlord must have a valid reason — and this cannot be racially based. Landlords must also allow applications from anyone who wants to rent the property. They cannot try to dissuade a potential tenant, which includes lying about the conditions to rent.

Inconsistent Policies

All tenants must receive the same terms and conditions on their leases in terms of things like the security deposit, late payments, and evictions.

What Can You Do to Ensure Potential Tenants Don’t Feel Racially Discriminated Against?

As a landlord, it’s crucial you ensure that none of your potential tenants feel you are using discriminative practices. There are a few things to do to achieve this.

First, make sure your rental listing doesn’t contain any language that could be considered discriminatory. A simple way to do this is to not mention the kind of tenant your property would suit — just describe the property itself.

Second, create a standard screening process you’ll use with all applicants. Only ask for the information you need and prevent hurdles that could make it more difficult for some people to apply.

Another thing to do is be professional when dealing with prospective renters. Treat everyone equally and think about whether you could unintentionally be using a different procedure with some applicants. Finally, post your rental listing in as many places as possible to reach a wide range of potential tenants. This is easy when you use Landlord Studio — it only takes a few taps. Then, you’ll be able to find tenants within the app, using the same process for everyone. Try Landlord Studio to manage your next applications.

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Laura H profile image
Laura Holton

Laura is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in advice for small business owners. She has written extensively on all kinds of real estate topics.


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