When it comes to fair housing, Colorado has some history.
This state was the first to pass fair housing laws at the state level. The laws were written in 1959, nearly a decade before the federal Fair Housing Act was signed into law.
The Colorado Civil Rights Division enforces these laws, which were passed to ensure every individual has equal access to the housing of their choice. Fair housing laws apply to housing providers such as landlords and property managers. They also apply to real estate brokers, mortgage lenders, homeowner associations, and anyone involved in providing housing.
Golden, CO rental property owners face many state and federal fair housing laws that must be complied with throughout the leasing and management process. All housing offered for lease or rent in Colorado is covered by the Fair Housing provisions in the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA). The federal Fair Housing Act and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act also apply.
It’s important that you’re thinking about these laws during the marketing and advertising process as well as the application process and throughout the tenancy. Fair housing laws must always be on your mind and written into your procedures.
Fair housing violations are expensive and they’ll also seriously damage your reputation as a landlord. Make sure you understand fair housing requirements so you can avoid potential risk, liability, and lawsuits.
Golden Property Management: Understanding Federal and State Fair Housing Laws
The Federal Fair Housing Act makes housing discrimination illegal when it comes to the sale, rental, or financing of homes. It also protects consumers who are obtaining insurance or other housing-related professional services.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) enforces the Fair Housing Act by investigating complaints from individuals and community organizations across the country. If HUD determines that housing discrimination has occurred, the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division can bring the case to Federal Court. The maximum penalty currently for your first offense is $16,000.
The federal Fair Housing Act prevents you from discriminating against tenants or applicants based on:
- Familial status
- National origin
These are considered “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 mistakes are easy to make. Be cautious, and always work with a Golden, CO property manager if you’re in doubt about how you should proceed.
The Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act has even more protected classes.
In Colorado, you cannot discriminate against a potential tenant or an existing tenant based on disability, race, creed, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, national origin, or ancestry.
State and federal fair housing laws allow tenants to file a housing discrimination complaint through HUD or through a local enforcement agency like the Colorado Civil Rights Division.
What does this mean for you as a landlord? It means that you must treat every applicant and tenant consistently. And, you cannot ask certain questions during the showing or screening process. You are not allowed to ask potential renters how many kids they have or whether they have a disability. You cannot ask how old they are or “where they come from.”
Advertising Golden Rental Properties in Accordance with Fair Housing Laws
Language can lead to fair housing mistakes. A simple question or an off-hand remark could make a tenant feel like you would not be treating them fairly in the application process or during the tenancy.
Your marketing process is an important part of getting your property rented. This is how you attract high-quality tenants to your property. While you’re putting together your listing and deciding how to promote your available property, make sure your materials and your marketing comply with fair housing laws.
When you’re marketing your rental home, stick to sharing the details you can lawfully include in your listing. You can talk about:
- Square footage. Advertise how large the home is, including how many bedrooms and bathrooms there are inside of the property. Advertise whether there’s outdoor space.
- Rental amount. List how much rent is per month and what kind of security deposit you’re planning to collect.
- Pets and whether you’re willing to consider them.
- When the home will be ready for move-in.
You can also talk about the benefits of the home itself. Maybe there’s exceptional natural light, a great location, updated kitchen counters, or a fenced backyard.
Avoid language that indicates you are looking for a particular type of tenant. You cannot say anything that references any of those protected classes that we’ve been discussing.
Do not say that your property is close to churches or mosques or synagogues. Do not say it’s perfect for families. Don’t call it a bachelor pad. This is the type of language that can get you in trouble because it may be seen as discriminatory against several of the law’s protected classes.
Keep your rental property marketing accessible to everyone who is qualified to rent your home.
Good marketing casts a wide net when you’re attracting people to your listing. So, focus on what the property offers to everyone. Don’t make assumptions about who would want to live there and don’t talk about the types of tenants you would prefer.
Tenant Screening and Fair Housing
Screening is one of the most important parts of leasing a home. You want to make sure your tenants are well-qualified, and you’ll need to do some digging around into their backgrounds to determine whether they’d be an asset or a liability while renting your property.
The thing that will protect you best during this process is a set of standard rental criteria or qualifications. Put these criteria in writing and provide it to any Golden 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.
Technology and automation will also help. The more you can keep your screening process objective, the more you’re able to protect yourself. A landlord who sits down and manually looks into the background of each applicant will likely fall back on assumptions and prejudices that they don’t even realize they have. When you’re using systems and software, or a third-party screening company, you’re not in danger of letting your personal opinions and preferences creep in. Everything is consistent and automated.
To remain compliant with state and federal fair housing laws, you must screen each application against the same requirements. Think about your credit standards, for example. If your rental criteria require that all tenants have a credit score of at least 600, you’ll have a lot of explaining to do if you deny an applicant with a 620 score but approve an applicant with a 580 score.
Set up the standards you seek in terms of credit, income, criminal history, and rental references. This 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.
There’s one more law to remember. The Fair Credit Reporting Act is not necessarily a fair housing law, but it does need to be followed. This law provides guidelines for how to communicate when you approve or deny a tenant. The denial needs to be in writing, and specific language must be included, especially if the denial is due to credit criteria.
Service and Companion Animals
Fair housing includes protection against discrimination against people with disabilities.
Tenants who have a physical, intellectual, or emotional disability are entitled to accommodations and modifications. This is an area of the law that is constantly evolving.
As a landlord, you have the choice to allow pets or not allow pets in your Golden, CO rental property. There are no laws on the books that protect pet owners. You can put together a strong pet policy or you can simply say a firm no to any and all pets.
Pets are optional, but service and companion animals are not. Fair housing laws do not consider service or companion animals to be pets. They are, instead, accommodations. They are to be treated less like pets and more like wheelchair ramps or shower seats.
You must allow service animals and companion animals. It also means you cannot charge a pet fee or pet rent.
Service animals are always dogs. Companion animals can be any type of animal and they are often emotional support animals that help people cope. There are different ways to approach each class of animal.
Fair housing laws can be challenging 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 Golden, CO property management company so you can adequately protect yourself and your investment.
Please don’t hesitate to contact us at Laurel Property Services, Inc. In addition to providing property management in Golden, we also serve Wheatridge, Morrison, Lakewood, Arvada, and Genesee, CO.