The Fair Housing Act was passed into law by Congress in 1968, to help stamp out housing discrimination. As a landlord in North Carolina, you must adhere to the act when it comes to handling both existing and prospective tenants.
The following is a guide to help you understand the Fair Housing Act and its accompanying regulations.
What Does the North Carolina Fair Housing Act Cover?
Fair housing means that all persons must be afforded equal opportunity in all housing-related matters. That is, in renting a unit, buying a home, in mortgage qualification, and even when obtaining property insurance.
The North Carolina Fair Housing Act makes all forms of discrimination in housing matters illegal based on some protected characteristics. The protected characteristics are race, color, disability, sex, religion, national origin, and familial status.
What Types of Properties Does the Fair Housing Act Cover?
The Fair Housing Act covers residential and commercial properties and vacant land that’s to be used for residential purposes.
What Types of Properties are Exempt from the Fair Housing Act?
While the Fair Housing Act covers most housing, some exceptions do exist. The following are properties that are exempt from the provisions of the act:
- Housing is operated by religious organizations.
- Single-family houses are rented or sold by an owner without the services of an agent.
- Owner-occupied buildings with at most 4 units.
- Private clubs that restrict occupancy to members.
Which Government Agency Enforces the Fair Housing Act in North Carolina?
The North Carolina Human Relations Commission (HRC) is the government agency tasked with enforcing anti-discrimination rules in North Carolina.
Are There Penalties for Violating the Fair Housing Act?
Yes. In the United States, engaging in housing discrimination will get you penalized by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The department published new civil penalty amounts in March 2020 and was enforceable on violations that occurred on or after April of that year.
What are Examples of Common Violations to the Fair Housing Act?
When it comes to renting, the following are the common violations landlords should avoid:
- Refusing to rent out a vacant unit to a prospective tenant based on a protected characteristic.
- Lying about the availability of a unit just because you don’t want to rent to a tenant based on their protected characteristic.
- Having different qualifying standards for different characteristics of tenants. For example, running credit reports on people of color but not doing the same to white prospects.
- Providing different tenants with different amenities and accommodations.
- Make statements in your rental ads that indicate a preference for or limitation of a prospective tenant based on certain characteristics.
- Interfering or threatening your tenant’s fair housing rights.
- Discriminating against elderly tenants based on their age.
- Refusing to reasonably accommodate the needs of a disabled tenant. Tenants who are mentally or physically disabled have special provisions under the statewide landlord-tenant law. It’s also unlawful for landlords to deny housing to a tenant with a service dog.
- Denying housing to a prospective tenant who has an arrest record or a past conviction. First and foremost, as a landlord, it’s illegal to deny housing to a person with an arrest record only. Also, you must exercise caution when reviewing a prospective tenant’s actual conviction. You should only consider relevant convictions that may reflect a danger to other tenants.
What Can a Landlord in North Carolina Do to Avoid Potential Discrimination Claims?
Write Discrimination-free Rental Ads
You must be cautious when writing up a rental ad. The language you use in the written text shouldn’t in any way indicate a preference for or limitation of a particular group of tenants. You cannot state statements such as:
- “Christian Home”. A prospective tenant who isn’t a Christian may see this as bias against other religious faith.
- “No Pets”. Even with a majority of American households having pets, many landlords still don’t accept pets. You may have a "no pet" policy however, it’d be unlawful to reject a disabled tenant because of their service animal.
- “Not Suitable for Children”. This would be discriminatory against tenants with kids. One of the protected characteristics under the Fair Housing Act is familial status.
- “Great for a Female Student”. This would be unlawful, as sex is a protected characteristic under the Fair Housing Act.
Other statements that you mustn’t include: “must provide proof of employment”, or “we only rent to people who speak English”.
Screen Tenants the Right Way
Before placing an ad on a rental listing, it’d be important to familiarize yourself with Fair Housing Act. This is because there are certain things you can and can’t say and do during the tenant screening process.
The following are examples of questions that North Carolina landlords must steer clear of:
- Are you married?
- Where are you originally from?
- Is that a service dog?
- How many children do you have?
- Are you a Catholic?
- Have you ever been arrested?
Hire a Property Management Company
Hiring a property manager is the best strategy to go with if you haven’t familiarized yourself with the North Carolina landlord-tenant laws. A good company will help maintain your property and ensure that rental operations are in line with all the relevant laws.
Landlords need to stay informed of the Fair Housing Act and other rental laws. These include the warranty of habitability, security deposit rules, landlord entry rules, and the fair credit reporting act.
If you would like help managing your rental properties and abiding by local, state, and federal rental laws then reach out to the experts at Weichert Realtors | Mark Thomas Properties Property Management.
Disclaimer: This blog isn’t a substitute for professional legal advice. If you have a specific question, get in touch with a qualified attorney or an experienced property management company.