Landlords have a ton of legal responsibilities under Maryland Landlord-Tenant Law. Among these is the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The law requires landlords to treat tenants fairly and equally in all matters.
It goes without saying that you risk severe penalties if you fail to abide by the tenets of the act. Civil penalties could range between $16,000 for first-time offenders and up to $65,000 for repeat offenders.
What Is the Federal Fair Housing Act?
Every American has a right to equal access to housing. The federal act guarantees this basic right. It guarantees equal access to housing opportunities not only to renters, but also to home buyers and mortgage applicants as well.
The law was passed to stamp out discriminatory practices in housing. The fight for housing rights was a major component of the Civil Rights Movement.
The first iteration of the act was the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The act created many barriers to discrimination in both public and private sectors. This version, however, failed to include a law to prevent housing discrimination.
The fight against housing discrimination didn’t stop there. Civil rights groups lobbied heavily and undertook a series of demonstrations to compel the government to pass a fair housing law.
The federal act was signed in 1968 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. It prohibited housing discrimination in four areas: race, color, religion, and national origin.
The act was subsequently amended in 1974 and 1988 to add sex, disability, and familial status to the list of protected classes.
The state of Maryland has also passed legislation to add more protections. The list of protected classes in Maryland is as follows:
- National origin
- Familial status
- Mental and Physical Disability
- Income source
- Gender identity
- Sexual orientation
- Marital status
Who Enforces the Fair Housing Laws in Maryland?
Enforcement of housing discrimination laws is overseen by the Maryland Commission for Civil Rights.
The following are practices that the commission highlights as discriminatory in Maryland:
- Refusing to rent your residential property to a bonafide renter.
- Using discriminatory lease conditions.
- Drafting advertisements that indicate preferences or limitations based on a protected class.
- Falsely denying the availability of a rental unit.
- Steering tenants of certain characteristics to certain neighborhoods.
- Refusing to provide disabled tenants with reasonable accommodations and modifications.
- Enforcing discriminatory terms against Maryland tenants of different groups based on their protected classes. For instance, requiring tenants of a certain race or ethnicity to pay a higher security deposit than tenants of other races or ethnicities.
- Harassing a tenant who is a member of any of the protected classes mentioned.
- Discriminating against a tenant based on their family status, such as rejecting a tenant’s application because they’re pregnant or have children.
Are There Exemptions to the FHA?
Yes, there are! The exemptions are as follows:
- Single-family homes that are rented out by the owner: The owner, however, must not own more than 3 homes at a time and must market the property in a non-discriminatory way.
- A property where the owner occupies one of the units: The property must not exceed four units.
- Housing for elderly people: These are specifically meant for persons aged at least 55 years.
- Religious or private organizations: These are allowed to limit membership only to members of their religion or clubs.
What Does the Fair Housing Law Say About People With Disabilities?
Disabled people are protected under federal law. The FHA, in conjunction with the Americans with Disabilities Act), provides guidelines that ensure people with disabilities are treated fairly and equally.
Disabilities can either be physical or mental. The following conditions are some examples of such:
- Mobility impairments
- Hearing impairments
- Visual impairments
- Intellectual disabilities
- Drug addiction
- Mental disability
How Can Landlords Ensure the Provision of Fair Housing?
As a landlord, you can ensure strict adherence to the FHA by doing the following:
Advertising Your Property Properly
The goal of every landlord is to find great tenants. This, however, doesn’t mean that you go to the extent of using discriminatory language in your rental ad. You’ll want to avoid using any language that shows preference or limitation on the kind of tenant you want.
Discriminative language to avoid includes the following:
- No kids allowed.
- Perfect for a single professional.
- English speakers only.
- Ideal for a Christian couple.
When advertising your property, focus more on ‘selling’ your property rather than describing the kind of tenant you want. It’ll save you a lot of potential trouble.
Ask the Right Screening Questions
Some questions are inappropriate when it comes to screening tenants. Just like when you’re drafting a rental ad, avoid asking questions that touch on a prospective tenant’s protected class.
It’d be unlawful for you to ask questions such as:
- How many children do you have?
- Are you married?
- Where do you go to church?
- Are you disabled?
- Where are your parents originally from?
Provide Timely Repairs and Maintenance
Once you’ve started renting out your property, it’s important that you continue observing the Fair Housing Act. Provide timely repairs and maintenance for all your tenants, regardless of their race, color, nationality, or any other protected class.
Please note that you must make all requested repairs within a reasonable time frame. This is normally interpreted as 30 days.
It’s important that landlords familiarize themselves with the Federal Fair Housing Laws as well as any other relevant state and local housing laws.
If you’re just starting out as a landlord and need expert help in keeping legally compliant, American Dream Realty and Management can help!
We’re a top property management company in Baltimore and the surrounding areas. Get in touch to learn more!
Disclaimer: This blog should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state. Laws change, and this post might not be updated at the time of your reading. Please contact us for any questions you have in regards to this content or any other aspect of your property management needs.