What Landlords Need to Know About Indianapolis Fair Housing Laws

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While Fair Housing laws may not be the most exciting part of being a landlord – it can be one of the most crucial. 

You may feel the Fair Housing Act is straightforward, and you would never purposely discriminate anyone from renting your property. 

So, why is it such a big deal? Why even spend the time reading a blog about it?

Lawsuits, lawsuits and more lawsuits.

We have seen countless Landlords and Property Managers sued over housing discrimination issues, simply due to ignorance of the law. 

Violating Fair Housing guidelines isn’t as cut and dry as refusing to rent to someone due to skin color. 

There are numerous caveats and subtleties that you should be aware of to avoid an embarrassing, and costly, lawsuit.

So here is what every landlord and property manager should absolutely know about Indiana Fair Housing:

What is the Fair Housing Act of 1968?

Also known as Title VIII if the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the Fair Housing Act is a piece of U.S. federal legislation that was passed in order to protect individuals and families from housing discrimination in the sale, rental, financing, or advertising of housing.

Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the biggest advocates for the bill and President Lyndon B. Johnson urged Congress to pass it in the wake of MLK’s death.

“The Fair Housing Act protects buyers and renters of housing from discrimination by sellers, landlords, or financial institutions and makes it unlawful for those entities to refuse to rent, sell, or provide financing for a dwelling based on factors other than an individual’s financial resources.”

The Department of Housing and Urban Development is charged with enforcing the legislation and investigating any complaints.

What is Protected Under the Fair Housing Act?

The federal Fair Housing Act protects 7 classes at this present time which include:

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

However, there are additional protected classes at the state and municipal levels in Indiana.

The state recognizes Ancestry as a protected class and Marion County recognizes 3 additional protected classes which are:

  • Age
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Military Service Veteran Status

As you can see, just knowing the national laws is not enough, you must be aware of your local ordinances as well in order to fully comply with Fair Housing guidelines.

What is Steering?

Steering is an unlawful practice that includes any words or actions that are intended to influence the choice of prospective buyers or tenants.

For example, a family with children is looking at an apartment complex. While taking the family on a tour, the leasing manager says something like, “this building is closer to the playground.”

What may seem like a harmless statement, can in reality be steering and in turn, discrimination. 

You may have committed this violation unknowingly at some point, even if just trying to be helpful. It is these small nuances within the law that you must be privy to. 

Examples of Housing Discrimination

Assume that in all of these examples, the applicant meets all rental requirements and would otherwise have been rented to if not for a particular trait.

  • Race: A Black person answers an online ad for an apartment. The landlord tells him that apartment has already been rented. It turns out that the apartment was not rented, and the landlord later rents it to a white applicant who answers the same ad.
  • Color: A rental manager charges individuals with darker skin a higher security deposit than people with lighter skin.
  • Religion: A rental property owner advertises that the home is in a predominately Jewish neighborhood so it would be perfect for anyone of that religion.
  • National Origin: A landlord checks the credit records of all Hispanic applicants and uses small credit problems as an excuse to refuse to rent apartments to them. It turns out that the landlord does not always check white applicants’ credit records or overlooks small credit problems in their records.
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  • Sex: A landlord refuses to rent a house to a single woman, but will rent it to a single man.
  • Familial Status: A property manager will only allow families with children to live in certain buildings or on certain floors.
  • Disability: A landlord refuses to rent to a blind woman because there is  no pet policy and she has a service dog.

Related: Do I Have to Allow a Service or an Emotional Support Animal?

  • Age: A real estate agent tries to persuade a 50 year old not to buy a home in a certain neighborhood because it’s predominantly younger people. (Steering)
  • Ancestry: A bank won’t grant a loan to an individual because they are descendants of Hitler.
  • Sexual Orientation: A landlord refuses to rent their property to a same-sex couple.

Fair Housing Act Exemptions

Incidentally, there are 3 groups that could be exempt from having to follow Fair Housing guidelines:

  • Single-family homes rented without the use of a real estate agent or advertising are exempt from the federal Fair Housing Act as long as the private landlord/owner doesn’t own more than three homes at the time.
  • Apartments of four units or less are also exempt if the owner lives in one of the units. However, even if this multifamily exemption applies to you, your rental advertising must still comply with the Act.
  • The rental of a single room in a home, qualified senior housing, and housing operated by religious or private organizations, if certain requirements are met.

While you may legally be exempt from having to be in strict compliance, morally, you should never discriminate based on any of the protected classes.

Tips To Avoid Housing Discrimination Complaints

Ensure your entire staff is trained on all Fair Housing laws and that they understand what words and actions can and cannot be used.
Be consistent with tenant screening, advertising, and rental requirements. It’s important to have your policies and processes in writing.

Treat everyone with respect and dignity.

About the Author

Devon L. Hicks

As well as being a licensed Realtor, Devon has her Bachelors in Marketing from Missouri State University and utilizes her skills in a variety of ways to educate and advise real estate investors in the Central Indiana region.

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