Fair Housing Helps Providers’ Bottom Line
Fair housing is serious business, but complying with fair housing laws should not conflict with business objectives. Proper training can prevent most, if not all, fair housing violations. The Fair Housing Council of Oregon is dedicated to assisting housing providers to establish and maintain best practices in the sale, rental, and management of residential properties statewide.
Fair Housing Law Applies to Every Housing Provider
- Property owners
- Landlords and property managers
- Home sellers
- Real estate agents and brokerage offices
- Multiple listing services
- Housing industry trade associations
- Builders and developers
- Condominium and homeowners’ associations
- Mobile home and RV parks
- Mortgage lenders and appraisers
- Homeowners’ and renter’s insurance carriers
- Designated senior communities
- Long-term care facilities
- Public housing authorities
- Homeless and domestic violence shelter providers
Fair Housing Law Applies to Every Step of the Sale or Rental
- Building and construction
- Advertising a listing
- Showing a home or apartment
- Taking a rental application
- Accepting a buyer’s offer
- Appraisals and inspections
- Mortgage loans
- Escrow and closing
- Homeowners and renters insurance
“Are you a new landlord? This guide explains your rights and responsibilities under fair housing law.”
“If a neighbor is harassing a tenant on the basis of a protected class, it is the responsibility of the housing provider, under fair housing law, to take action to stop the harassment.”
Fair Housing Doesn’t Affect a Provider’s Bottom Line
Landlords can legally set rental screening criteria as long as it is not discriminatory based on protected class status and you consistently apply it with all applicants. Property owners can establish income levels and rental, credit, and/or criminal history requirements.
For example, you can require applicants to have an income three times the amount of the rent. If an applicant has a housing voucher or uses a type of housing subsidy, you would consider this as part of their income. When screening for income requirements, you would need to compare their rent payment to their monthly income including the voucher or subsidy.
You also cannot have overly broad criminal history criteria, such as a blanket ban on any applicant with a criminal record. The look-back period should be short, and your focus should be on crimes that would present a clear threat to your property and/or residents.
BOTTOM LINE: TREAT EVERYONE FAIRLY AND CONSISTENTLY
Do not make decisions based on assumptions, but judge individuals based on their behavior, following your established written procedures.
How the Fair Housing Council of Oregon Can Help Providers
We are dedicated to helping housing providers establish policies and procedures that help them meet their obligations and responsibilities under fair housing law. We offer training materials and educational outreach that provide proactive solutions embodying inclusive and equitable principles. Our trainers are experienced facilitators who stay current on recent changes to fair housing law, relevant federal and state agency rulings, and case law.
FHCO Housing Providers Training Sessions
Fundamentals of Fair Housing
This program is a comprehensive analysis of fair housing law and common challenges that rental owners, property management companies, homeowners’ associations, real estate professionals, public housing authorities, and nonprofit housing providers face in their everyday environment. We tailor our training to the needs of the organization and incorporate various training techniques, which may include scenario analysis, small group discussion, Q&A sessions, and interactive activities such as Fair Housing Jeopardy or Bingo.
Reasonable Accommodations in Focus
This class specifically discusses each stage of a reasonable accommodation and modification request from residents and applicants with disabilities. Participants must have completed the Fundamentals of Fair Housing class. Issues addressed include assistance animals, caregivers, and hoarding disorder.
Fair Housing Presentations
FHCO also offers sessions to fit nicely into a luncheon, company meeting, or classroom schedule. Topics can include fair housing history, current trends, and insights on today’s fair housing challenges. We tailor these sessions for particular audiences (e.g., law firms, housing providers, students, or corporate audiences).
Frequently Asked Housing Provider Questions
Do I have to accept Section 8 or other agency/church housing subsidies?
Under Oregon fair housing law, landlords cannot refuse to rent to an applicant, or treat an applicant or tenant differently, because the applicant is using a Section 8 voucher or other local, state, or federal rental housing assistance. Landlords also cannot advertise “no Section 8.” Landlords can still screen and reject any applicant, including those with a Section 8 voucher, for past conduct and their ability to pay rent. Housing providers must consider the housing voucher as part of the applicant’s source of income. If the housing provider has screening criteria that says a tenant must make three times the amount of rent, then the housing provider should consider that it is three times the amount of the tenant portion of the rent payment.
What should I do when my tenant has requested a reasonable accommodation for an assistance animal?
Fair housing law requires landlords to consider all requests for reasonable accommodations, including those for assistance animals. If the tenant’s disability isn’t obvious, a landlord may require the tenant to provide a letter from a qualified individual who knows the person’s situation (examples include their medical or mental health provider, case manager, pastor, or drug or alcohol counselor) attesting to the disability and the necessity of the accommodation. If the condition is verified, the landlord is legally required to make a reasonable accommodation — in this case, an exception to a no-pets policy. Under fair housing law, the assistance animal does not need to be a certified and/or trained service animal; it may also be a “companion,” “therapy,” “emotional support,” or “comfort” animal. A landlord cannot charge a deposit or a fee for an assistance animal, but they may require that the animal follow all property rules and not damage the property or disturb neighbors.
What are fair housing guidelines for screening someone's criminal history?
Fair housing law does allow landlords to deny applicants who have a criminal history that demonstrates a risk to the safety of other tenants and/or the property. However, landlords must abide by HUD guidance issued in 2016 that requires the following regarding criminal history screening:
- They cannot consider arrest records that did not result in a conviction, unless the charges are still pending;
- They must consider how long ago a conviction happened; and
- They must consider the rehabilitation of the applicant.
This guidance requires landlords to consider applicants on a case-by-case basis and have established criteria regarding how a criminal history will affect consideration of an application.
What's the difference between fair housing law and landlord-tenant law?
Landlord-tenant law encompasses all aspects of a tenant’s relationship with the housing provider, from move-in to move-out, and can include issues regarding timely repairs, rent increases, notices, and evictions. Fair housing law may involve any of these issues as well — but with the added element that the housing provider is violating a tenant’s rights due to their protected class status. If a housing dispute does not involve differential treatment due to protected class status, it would not fall under fair housing law, but it might fall under landlord-tenant law. FHCO staff can help you determine if your dispute involves a violation of fair housing law.
Who pays the cost of altering the rental unit if a Reasonable Modification request is submitted?
A landlord is not required to pay for any modifications unless the rental has a federal subsidy (i.e., the building is funded with federal HUD or Rural Development funds). Landlords have the right to ensure the work is done in a professional manner by a licensed contractor and that it meets all local building codes. If the landlord wants the rental changed back to its original condition upon move-out, they have the right to require the tenant to change it back — however, with the scarcity of accessible units on the market, they can legally advertise the unit’s accessible features.
How do occupancy standards relate to fair housing law?
Overly restrictive occupancy standards have a disproportionate impact on families with children, making it difficult for them to find suitable housing. Having such standards violates the familial status protection under fair housing law. FHCO recommends landlords use an occupancy standard of “2+1” — two persons per bedroom plus one additional person. This would mean a five-occupant maximum in a two-bedroom unit or a seven-occupant maximum in a three-bedroom. It is also illegal for housing providers to dictate that boys and girls cannot share a bedroom or to otherwise dictate where occupants sleep in a unit.
Can a landlord impose a no smoking policy on their property?
A “no smoking” rule is not illegal under fair housing law as long as the rule is enforced consistently. Smokers are not a protected class, and owners and managers have the right to restrict smoking to certain areas or ban it altogether on a property. However, under fair housing law, a resident with a disability can request a reasonable accommodation or exception to a policy that permits smoking. A respiratory disability (such as asthma) that has a major impact on breathing is considered a disability under fair housing law, and a resident with asthma living in a building that permits smoking may find the condition has worsened as a result of second-hand smoke. In this situation, the resident may request a reasonable accommodation or modification from their landlord or HOA for assistance in alleviating the problem. This might involve assistance in relocating to a unit in a non-smoking building, establishing a separate ventilation system, or sealing off the unit to prevent the smoke from entering.
What is a landlord’s responsibility when working with tenants or applicants with limited English proficiency?
Private or individual landlords do not have a legal responsibility to assist those with limited English proficiency (LEP), but providing move-in forms in additional languages is a big help to many applicants. Federally assisted housing providers, however, are required by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act to provide meaningful access to people with LEP. LEP persons include anyone “who does not speak English as their primary language and who has a limited ability to read, write, speak, or understand English…” (HUD LEP Guidance, 6872 Fed. Reg. 273244) (Jan. 22, 2007). Meaningful access can include written translations of documents such as rental applications and legal notices, having bilingual staff members, or providing referrals to community liaisons proficient in the language of the LEP person.
Do fair housing laws apply to U.S. citizens only?
It is legal to rent to an undocumented individual; housing is different than employment laws. Anyone living in the United States receives fair housing protections. If someone is living in the U.S. without documentation, they still have the right to file a fair housing complaint but may choose not to do so since the information will become public record. FHCO provides confidential information and assistance.