AZ: Beware of Discriminatory Practices

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All landlords are subject to penalties imposed under fair housing laws. It is very important that management and on-site employees do not engage in discriminatory practices against renters.

Landlords are liable if their actions are discriminatory, even if they did not purposely intend them to be so. This article will cover some of the general practices that communities should be aware of and try to avoid.

The U.S. initiated laws protecting individual civil rights in the late 1860’s. The practice of discrimination, however, continues. The passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1968 established and defined five protected groups. They included race, color, religion, national origin and sex.

In 1989, Congress expanded this list by two additional categories: physically and mentally disabled; and familial status (families with children). Arizona has its own fair housing law. Promulgated in 1991, the Arizona Fair Housing Act covers the same protected classes as the Federal law.

Courts can impose civil penalties as high as $10,000 for first-time offenses, so it is important that landlords know the laws and tailor their rental practices to comply with them. Management should keep in mind one very simple golden rule: Treat everyone the same.

The following are some examples of discriminatory practices:

• Failure to accept a bona fide offer to rent. In other words, informing a prospective renter that there currently are no units available to rent, when in fact there are.

• Refusal to rent to an individual qualifies under all rental criteria. For example, a prospective resident meets all of the landlord’s criteria but management tells him or her that there are now no units available.

• Application of different prices or contract terms. For instance, charging families a higher rent than other residents. Another example is offering families a lease term that is shorter than those you offer other residents.

• Application of different rental qualification procedures. In this situation, you might require families with children to have four times the net disposable income and families without children to have three times the net disposable income.

• Not permitting a prospective resident to inspect an apartment, exaggerating drawbacks or failing to inform the person of the desirable features of the community. For example, management tells a prospective resident that he or she would not be happy at the property because of certain amenities or the lack thereof.

• Steering. This involves a landlord or staff member telling a prospective renter that he or she would not be compatible or comfortable with the existing residents. The landlord then provides the person with a list of other local properties that may suit him or her. For example, management tells an individual with two children that the property has two swimming pools. The landlord says that since the children are young, the family might be happier at a community which does not have swimming pools. The landlord then gives the individual a list of properties that do not have swimming pools.

• Assignment of certain sections of a property to certain people. Apartment communities years ago used to have both adult and family swimming pools. The properties did not allow children in the adult pools. Today, this is a discriminatory practice.

• Photographs, illustrations, symbols, words or other descriptions that convey that the apartments are not available to a particular group. A case in Washington, D.C. involved an apartment management company billboard that depicted a number of young, Caucasian models sitting around a swimming pool. A member of a minority group viewed the sign and filed suit on the basis of discrimination, even though she had no intention of renting at the property. A jury agreed and awarded her approximately $15,000.

This is in no way an exhaustive list. There are many subtle forms of discrimination. Again, management should treat everyone the same to avoid discrimination charges.

Consider the following example:

Anna Rexick inquires about renting a unit at Heartland Apartments. She has two small children, Bo Leemic and Hy Pol Glycemic. Manager Dick Scriminate does not like children, and tells her there are no apartments available.

A couple of weeks pass and Anna Rexick still is searching for an apartment. She runs into her friend Jerry Tall. He informs her that he recently rented a unit at Heartland Apartments and knows for a fact there are a least ten vacant units at the property.

Anna Rexick files a complaint with a government agency. Following an investigation, it finds that Dick Scriminate never rented to families and takes appropriate action against him.

Andrew M. Hull
Hull, Holliday & Holliday, PLC

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