As a property owner, you draw on your own experience to evaluate who to rent your investment properties to. That makes sense, but it can be easy to slip into behaviors that are technically against the law without some clear guidance. With the help of the Chesapeake property management experts at Renters Warehouse Hampton Roads, you can avoid discrimination while still making prudent decisions on who you accept as renters.
Foreword: While we are rental experts in Chesapeake, this blog is not legal counsel. If you need live support, get in touch with the Rent Estate™ Advisors at Renters Warehouse Hampton Roads or your attorney.
Knowing the Law
The key piece of legislation you want to understand is called the Fair Housing Act of 1968, though it has been updated since then, and more pieces of it have developed common interpretations. This legislation says that you cannot deny someone the chance to rent your property because they are a member of a protected class. These classes include race, religion, national origin, family status, age, disability, and sex (or gender).
Many people know in their hearts that many kinds of discrimination are wrong, but sometimes, our preconceived notions about groups of people can trip us up, making us believe that certain groups are better renters. If you hadn't before heard of age discrimination, for instance, you might not notice that you gravitated toward renting to people who are a similar age to you and were less likely to trust or feel connected to those who were much older or younger than yourself.
It's not an intentional bias, but it still results in discrimination—meaning it's both illegal and a bad idea.
Sometimes, simply not understanding the laws can result in discrimination, such as not understanding how you can legally accommodate a rental applicant with a disability in ways that enable them to live where and how they want. Getting to know the Fair Housing Act and where it applies is the first step to avoiding discrimination.
Isn't It Just a Harmless Misunderstanding? Not Really
One of the areas where we sometimes see trouble is when property owners want to only rent units to, for instance, single women instead of men or families. Maybe they've had trouble from past renters who were male or from families, and those property owners see this as a way to avoid repeating these past patterns.
Unfortunately, this pattern choice is actually discrimination since there is no way to know if the men or families you've rented to in the past are truly part of a trend. In fact, there are wonderful rental applicants across all familial statuses and sexes, which is part of why they are a protected class.
So even if you think of your rental application preferences as non-discriminatory and 'just preferences,' you need to make sure none of them fall along the lines being misconstrued as a bias towards Fair Housing Act protected classes. Working with expert Chesapeake property management services is one way to keep this from happening.
Tenant Screening Done Right (Legally)
The alternative to these often narrow, pattern-based preferences (like renting to only women) is to screen renters carefully based on factors that are definitely related to their ability to be great renters. Great people come from all kinds of backgrounds, so focus on the actual red flags.
From bad past rental experiences to a lack of demonstrated ability to pay the rent, prioritize these issues over external characteristics that don't directly relate to renter behavior. There are more benefits to this approach than just legal compliance.
Many of us can be led far astray by meeting a rental applicant who looks and speaks like us or who shares some aspect of our background. With a non-biased screening practice, you'll discover red flags and make sure that you take them into consideration even for potential renters who you'd love to be friends with. Instead, you'll select from the applicants who are available based on the fewest rental-related red flags, giving you the best chance at a professional and positive renting experience.
Your Reputation Can Take a Hit, Too
If you choose a tactic like 'I just happen to rent to only women,' people will notice, even if there isn't full evidence of illegal discrimination. Your reputation as a property owner should be one of impartiality and willingness to treat people fairly, or fewer people will want to work with you.
A Chesapeake property management partner like Renters Warehouse Hampton Roads wants to help you keep a strong reputation as your business grows, so that you can quickly fill any vacancies and retain long-term renters who are happy with your portfolio of investment properties.
Property managers have seen enough of the Chesapeake rental market to know that both long-term and short-term, discriminatory renting is a terrible practice that will reduce your reputation and your ability to bring in the best possible people for your rental property.
Use the knowledge acquired by full-service property management professionals to create a non-discriminatory process that helps you know very clearly which renter to accept. This insight can even help you identify when it's worth the vacancy time to market for more applicants because all available applicants have substantial red flags.
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