Real Estate Tips |6 min read

Fair Housing Act and ADA: The Definitive Landlord Guide

April is Paralyzed Veterans Across America Month, and a top way you can honor those who have served our nation is to protect their legal rights. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are two of the biggest staples of equality.

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You can educate yourself on these laws with a simple review of the fundamentals. Even better, this way, you can sharpen your legal compliance, and in turn, become the best equal-opportunity landlord that you can be. Let the property managers in Northern Virginia show you how you can fulfill these regulations.

What Is Housing Discrimination?

Housing discrimination happens when landlords treat prospective tenants differently based on their identity, instead of the same criteria they use for everyone equally. That’s why it’s so important that landlords screen each applicant the same way, without change. This strategy can allow you to avoid legal repercussions.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing providers from performing housing discrimination against any protected class.

Federally protected classes comprise seven vulnerable groups that must not be treated differently in any way during the rental process because they belong to that group. Housing providers cannot commit housing discrimination against the following groups.

The Seven Protected Classes

  • Disability
  • Race
  • Color
  • National Origin
  • Familial Status
  • Religion
  • Sex

Landlords also need to keep in mind that states and local jurisdictions may have additional protected classes. Furthermore, local laws get updated all the time. Just in case, proactively research all applicable Fair Housing Act compliance laws in your area so you’re certain that all your policies and practices follow the letter of the law.

What is a Disability Under the ADA?

“Disability” is a blanket umbrella term that incorporates countless common conditions. When most people think of disabilities, they only picture someone who, for example, uses a wheelchair. Wheelchair users certainly are important members of the disability community, but there are so many other types of disabilities out there.

If someone is perceived as having a disability (regardless of whether they really do), or if they used to have a disability, the ADA protects them. You might be surprised at how many people have a disability under the ADA. Surprisingly, according to the CDC, 1 in 4 Americans lives with a disability. Below, you can find a few conditions under the ADA disability label.

Examples of Disabilities Under the ADA

  • Alzheimer’s
  • Mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety disorders
  • Cancer
  • ADHD
  • Diabetes
  • Heart conditions
  • Long covid
  • Asthma
  • Learning disabilities
  • Brain injury

Notably, many of the above disabilities are invisible disabilities, which means they are not immediately visible. Because of this, much of the time, it’s possible you won’t tell whether a person you meet has a disability. As a landlord, you should not assume a person’s disability status under the ADA.

What Are Examples of Fair Housing Act Violations?

When you rent your property out to people, you are not allowed to do several things based on their disabilities. If you act out any of the actions below, you will be performing an illegal act. Also, you could get a Fair Housing Act complaint in your mailbox, and you do not want to expose yourself to that risk.

Common Examples of Fair Housing Act Violations

  • Refuse to give tenants access to a property available for lease.
  • Refuse to give tenants a lease agreement.
  • Change the requirements, benefits, or rules of a lease.
  • Grant tenants different facilities or services than you would tenants without disabilities.
  • Refuse to give tenants rental-related memberships or services.
  • Openly exclude or single out people with disabilities in your marketing efforts.
  • Promote or prevent people with disabilities from utilizing various properties or amenities.
  • Ask certain prospective tenants questions that are different from what you ask other tenants.
  • Ask if prospective tenants have disabilities or ask them about their disability’s level of severity.
  • Question if a prospective tenant can live alone properly.
  • Refuse to make reasonable accommodations that enable people with disabilities to participate equally in your rental spaces.
  • Deny the tenant reasonable modifications that enable them to access and use their rented property.

As a rule, you should handle every potential or real tenant the same way to avoid legal consequences (with reasonable accommodations and modifications as an exception, which we’ll talk about in a minute!)

Explaining Reasonable Accommodations

Accommodations and modifications lie at the center of equal-opportunity housing. These two laws enable people with disabilities to receive fair and equal housing opportunities the same way others do.

Reasonable accommodations are alterations, exemptions, or variations to landlord rules or regulations that allow your occupants to use public spaces, common rooms, activities, programs, and other areas.

Also, you are not allowed to require people with disabilities to pay extra maintenance fees or requirements to access these accommodations. Doing so would violate accessible housing laws.

Explaining Reasonable Modifications

Reasonable modifications are structural alterations that you apply to previously existing places that people with disabilities use. This could include installing ramps in the common room or adding grab bars to a bathroom.

Section 504 advises that landlords pay for reasonable modifications. If the modification would bring financially or administratively undue burdens or fundamental alterations, landlords must instead go for a similar possible option. They should deliver truly reasonable, efficient accommodations. By doing this, all parties will have positive outcomes.

Reasonable Accommodations and Modifications: Extra Comments

Before, we said that you must treat all people equally. So, it might seem contradictory that you must alter your places and practices for people with disabilities when they need them. However, this distinction makes sense.

It makes sense because reasonable accommodations remedy circumstances when people with disabilities otherwise could not access certain features equally. For instance, with the Fair Housing Law, you must permit people with disabilities to house service animals, even if your regular pet policies declare otherwise. As long as you give people with disabilities the solutions they need, you will avoid housing discrimination.

Follow the Law with BMG NOVA

When you give people with disabilities equal access to your facilities, you give them the respect they deserve and comply with accessible housing laws. Now that you know what the Fair Housing Act and ADA entail, you can rest assured you have the tools to succeed as an equal-opportunity landlord.

If you still could use some help with implementing accessible housing laws, you’re not alone. We are here to assist you. Our professionals can handle the logistics of reasonable accommodations and modifications, so you don’t have to. Call us today to gain a helping hand with legal compliance.

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