The Federal Fair Housing Act was passed by Congress in 1968 in order to eliminate housing-related discrimination. Fair housing means tenants should never risk discrimination when looking to rent a home. The act protects buyers and renters from discrimination based on their protected characteristics.
At the federal level, the protected characteristics include age, color, sex, religion, race, disability and national origin. In addition to this federal legislation, some states, including Texas, have additional protected characteristics for their residents.
As a Texas landlord, you are responsible for adhering to the provisions of the federal, state and local Fair Housing rules. If you don't, you may be financially liable for punitive damages. There are fair housing requirements as well which indicate what changes you need to be able to make to your property in order for it to be fair housing to all tenants.
When talking about discrimination against any familial status, race, color, religion, sex, or any other minority, discriminatory advertising applies. Before you put up an advertisement on a multiple listing service, make sure you have a friendly dwelling to rent from for any person.
In this post, we are going over everything you need to know about the Fair Housing Act in Texas!
Do you Have any Liability Regarding the Fair Housing Act?
Yes, landlords (and their agents) are liable for any unfairness towards tenants, whether intentional or not. Any discrimination can result in a fair housing complaint.
The following are some examples of housing inequity:
- Failing to provide rental applications to a prospective minority person, including tenants of a different national origin.
- Failing to respond to prospective minority tenants' inquiries.
- Setting a higher or lower rent price or security deposit amount based on a protected characteristic.
- Running rental ads that contain discriminatory statements, such as: "Looking for a White Tenant."
Who are the Protected Classes?
It's important to avoid any form of prejudice towards prospective and existing tenants.
Under Texas law, renters are protected against discrimination based on:
- Place of origin
- Familial status
- Physical disability and mental disability (including chronic illness, mental illness, alcoholism, physical handicap, HIV or AIDS)
This means that when marketing your rental unit, when interacting with prospective or current tenants and when screening tenants, you must not discriminate against them based on these characteristics. For example, it would be unacceptable to refuse the request of someone with a physical disability for ground floor units, should one be available to rent.
A fair housing right also means that minority tenants will have access to different housing services in order for the housing to be accessible to them. People with physical or mental disability may need adjustments made to the home. For example, reasonable accommodations for someone who is deaf may be installing doorbell lights. Anything that substantially limits a person with such a disability and their quality of life is considered a breach of fair housing rights and the reasonable modifications must be applied.
Do Exceptions to the FHA Exist?
Although the FHA is a federal law, exceptions do exist.
The following are those exempt from the FHA:
- Homes operated by private or religious organizations, provided certain requirements are met.
- Qualified senior housing.
- Landlords who share their house with one or more tenants.
- Landlords who rent single-family homes without any form of advertising or real estate agent help, and don't own more than 3 homes.
However, the aforementioned exemptions don't exist at the federal level. This means that each state is free to enact their own laws that don't allow for any exemptions to the Fair Housing Act.
What is Familial Status Discrimination?
As aforementioned, 'familial status' is one of the protected characteristics.
In general, familial status applies to women who are pregnant, or parents, legal custodians, or guardians with kids below the age of 18 years old.
As a landlord in Texas, you are prohibited from discriminating against tenants who have children. However, you are allowed to limit occupancy of a unit for fire and other safety reasons. You can do all in your power to offer reasonable accommodation to larger families, but safety rules must be followed.
Tenant-on-Tenant Discrimination – Can You be Held Liable?
In 2018, a court found a landlord to be guilty for tenant-on-tenant harassment that was on the basis of a protected class.
The complainant was repeatedly abused and harassed by residents in her new community for being a member of the LGBTQ+ community. The tenant notified the landlord of the issue and asked for help. However, the landlord disregarded her and didn't take any measures to stop the harassment. The landlord also prevented her from using the rental's facilities and tried to remove her from the unit.
Because of this, the judge ruled that the landlord was guilty of discrimination by limiting the tenant's use of facilities, trying to evict her, and failing to take action to stop the harassment.
With that in mind, you have a responsibility to take complaints from tenants seriously. If you ignore their complaints, you could find yourself in legal trouble and it could be considered housing discrimination.
Remember, tenants have a right to quiet and peaceful enjoyment of their rented homes. So, if their peace is constantly disrupted, you should definitely do something about it since it's your obligation to create a welcoming and safe environment for your tenants.
It's important to understand the Fair Housing Act.
If you strictly adhere to these laws, you won't have to worry about accidentally discriminating against tenants and breaking the law.
As an overview, here are the protected characteristics in Texas:
- National origin
- Familial Status
- Physical disability and mental disability
You cannot refuse any tenant for the above reasons.
So, when doing the following, you should not discriminate against those protected classes:
- Marketing a vacant rental property
- Communicating with prospective or current tenants in-person or over the phone
- Screening prospective tenants
If you want more help remaining compliant with the Texas Fair Housing Act, Limestone County Properties can help. Contact us today!
For more information on Texas rental laws, read our post here!
Disclaimer: This blog isn't a substitute for expert legal advice from a qualified attorney. Laws change frequently, and this blog might not be updated at the time you read it. Please get in touch with us for any questions you might have regarding this content or any other aspect of your property management needs.