When we talk about fair housing, we often think about the federal laws, specifically the Fair Housing Act.
What you might not know is that the state of Colorado actually enacted fair housing protections even before the federal law went into effect. Colorado was the first state in the nation to pass statewide fair housing laws, barring discrimination in housing in 1959, nine years before the signing of the federal Fair Housing Act.
The Colorado Civil Rights Division is the statewide regulatory agency responsible for enforcing fair housing laws. The state laws and the federal fair housing laws are in place to ensure everyone has equal access to the housing of their choice. Fair housing laws apply to housing providers such as landlords, but also to property managers like us as well as real estate brokers, lenders, homeowner associations, and anyone else involved in providing housing.
When you rent out a property in Lakewood, Colorado, you need to understand all fair housing laws on a state and federal level. That’s because fair housing violations are expensive. Not only are they costly, but breaking a fair housing law can potentially damage your reputation as a landlord.
Make sure you understand fair housing requirements so you can avoid potential risk, liability, and lawsuits.
Today, we’re sharing some fair housing advice that will protect you from potential errors and keep you on the right side of the law.
Fair Housing at the State and Federal Level
The federal Fair Housing Act prevents you from discriminating against tenants or applicants based on:
These are considered the federal “protected classes,” and you need to be aware of the potentially discriminatory language that’s often used as well as practices that are inconsistent or unfair. You may not intentionally discriminate against someone for any of these reasons, but unintentional mistakes are easy to make. Be cautious, and always work with a Lakewood property manager if you’re in doubt about how you should proceed.
State law has a few more protected classes than federal laws. In Colorado, you are also prohibited from discriminating against applicants or tenants based on:
Exemptions in Colorado are minimal. You may be exempt from fair housing laws if you’re renting out a room in your home that you also occupy. If you’re renting out property as a religious club or a private organization, you can give preference to your members.
Advertising Your Lakewood Rental Home: What to Say and What Not to Say
You might have never realized that fair housing violations could be made while advertising that you have a Lakewood home for rent.
An aggressive, strategic marketing plan will help you attract tenants to your property. It’s good to be highly descriptive and even over-zealous when you’re putting your rental home in front of the best possible tenants you’re hoping to attract. Just remember that any of your listings, marketing materials, or signs need to comply with fair housing laws.
When you’re marketing your rental home, you can include details in your listing that discuss the home’s size, what the rent will be per month, when the home will be ready for occupancy, and what the property’s benefits are – whether those happen to be great natural light, updated kitchen appliances, or a fenced backyard.
Here are some of the things you cannot say:
“Great for single professionals.”
“Close to churches.”
“College students only.”
This type of language can be seen as discriminatory against several of the law’s protected classes.
Keep your rental property marketing accessible to everyone who is qualified. Including or excluding certain groups like families or religious minorities can be seen as discriminatory. The best advice we can give you is to keep your advertising focused on what the property is and what it has to offer.
Don’t make assumptions about who would want to live there.
Don’t talk about the types of tenants you would prefer.
Consistent Rental Criteria Protects You from Fair Housing Mistakes
Put together a standard rental criteria or a set of qualifications, and put it in writing, and provide this criteria to any tenant who is interested in filling out an application. Then, make sure you follow your own standards consistently every time you screen a potential tenant.
You have to screen each application against the same requirements, otherwise you could be accused of discrimination. Denying one applicant because of a 580 credit score is not going to hold up in court if the tenant you eventually place has a 550 credit score.
Written standards will help you with that consistency, and it will also make your screening process more objective. Set up the standards you seek in terms of:
Positive rental references
Having this criteria in place and providing it to applicants will make it easy for you to move through the application process because you’ll know exactly who is approved and who is not just by looking at the data. It’s more likely to protect you against any potential claims of discrimination.
Service and Companion Animals and Fair Housing
As a landlord, it’s your decision to allow pets or not allow pets in your Lakewood rental property. Maybe you’ll allow cats but not dogs. Maybe you’ll allow one pet per tenant or any animal that’s smaller than 20 pounds. You can structure your pet requirements and restrictions any way you choose.
However, you cannot deny tenants with service or support animals. The fair housing laws do not consider those animals to be pets. They are, instead, accommodations.
This means you have to allow them. It also means you cannot charge a pet fee or pet rent. There are different ways to treat service animals and companion animals, so you need to understand what type of animal you’re working with and what kind of rights your tenant has.
Fair housing laws can be difficult to navigate, and they change frequently. If you don’t have the time or resources to stay up to date on these requirements, get help from a professional Lakewood property management company. We understand these laws and we make sure you’re compliant. Contact our team at Assured Management, Lakewood property management experts serving residential landlords in West Denver and the surrounding areas, including Littleton, Golden, Wheat Ridge, Arvada, and more.