The Fair Housing Act guarantees every American the right to fairness when it comes to renting, buying a home, or access to mortgage on the basis of certain protected classes. Under federal law, there are seven protected classes.
That is, race, color, religion, sex, nationality, disability, and familial status. As a landlord, denying a tenant the opportunity to rent your Georgia home or evicting a tenant on the basis of such classes would be unlawful and you’d be liable to certain legal and financial ramifications.
The Fair Housing Act was first put before Congress in 1966. However, it wasn’t until two years later that the bill was passed into law and signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. It was enacted as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, and codified at 42 U.S.C. 3601-3619.
And this came a week later after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His assassination led to an outpouring of anger among Black Americans. It also led to a period of national mourning that helped speed up the enactment of the Fair Housing Act by Congress.
Does Georgia have additional protections for groups not covered under the Federal Fair Housing Act?
Some states have additional protections for their residents. Georgia isn’t among these groups of states, however, as it’s yet to pass a legislation in this regard. That being said, there are some non-statutorily protections that exist under the Department of Community Affairs on a case-by-case basis.
What are some examples of acts that may be considered discriminatory under the Georgia Fair Housing laws?
The following are actions that you’d want to avoid as a landlord.
• Refusing to rent out your property on a bona fide rental application
• Lying about the availability of your property on account of the prospect’s race, color, or any other protected class
• Offering different tenants different lease terms
• Making threats to tenants or intimidating them
• “Steering” tenants away to particular neighborhoods
• Refusing to provide disabled tenants with reasonable accommodations and modifications so as to enable them enjoy their rental premises
• Including discriminatory statements in the rental ad
• Using discriminatory questions during the tenant screening process
• Being biased in the manner in which you enforce the terms of the lease agreement
What are the penalties for violating the Georgia Fair Housing Act?
As a landlord, violating the Fair Housing Act could expose you to hefty financial and/or legal repercussions.
The first type of penalty you’d be liable for is paying compensatory damages and the security deposit, which may include out-of-pocket expenses to enable your tenant meet the costs of finding an alternative dwelling.
The other type of penalty are civil penalties. These usually range from as low as $16,000 to north of $100,000 depending on whether the offence is a one-time offence or a repeat one.
You may also be penalized punitive damages, as well as being made liable for paying your tenant non-economic damages.
What rights do people with disabilities have under the Georgia Fair Housing Act?
First off, disability is a protected class under the Fair Housing Act. Therefore, as a landlord, you’re obligated to allow certain modifications and accommodations a disabled tenant may request as long as they are reasonable.
Examples of reasonable modifications you can make for disabled tenants include the following.
• Assigning accessible parking for a mobility-impaired individual
• Allowing a rental applicant to submit their rental application form through different means
• Adding a grab bar to a tenant’s bathroom
• Allowing a tenant to transfer to the ground-floor unit
• Adjusting the schedule for rent payment to accommodate when a disabled tenant receives income assistance
• Assigning a mobility-impaired individual an accessible parking space
An example of a reasonable accommodation you can make for a disabled tenant is allowing them to keep a service dog even if you have a “no pets” policy in place.
Besides landlords, who else is prohibited from engaging in housing-related discriminatory practices?
Other individuals include the following:
• Insurance providers
• Mortgage lenders and brokers
• Property managers
• Home developers
• Real estate agents
• Homeowners’ associations
Are there exceptions under the Fair Housing Act?
Yes, there are exceptions, although in very limited circumstances. They include the following.
• Private clubs that limit occupancy to members
• Housing operated by religious organizations
• Single-family housing that is sold or rented without professional brokerage services
• Owner-occupied buildings with a maximum of four units
What can Georgia landlords do to ward off potential discrimination claims?
As a landlord, you cannot use ignorance as a legal defense in court. Therefore, familiarizing yourself with the Fair Housing Act isn’t an option; it’s a must in order to run a successful rental investment in Georgia.
Below are a couple of tips to help you in this regard.
• Be mindful of what you say. Whether it’s during the tenant selection process, or during your day-to-day interactions with your tenants, make sure to remain professional at all times.
• Treat all tenants you have equally. Respond to issues with the necessary urgency, and avoid being selective in the friendships you create.
• Always act professionally. Issues are inevitable in the life of any landlord. The goal, however, is to ensure that you approach the issue with the professionalism it deserves.
• Review all rental ads before publishing them. Even better, have a professional go through them to avoid potential discrimination claims from tenants belonging to certain classes.
Examples of phrases to avoid include: “Suitable for a Young Couple,” “Ideal for a Family,” “No Pets Allowed,” or “Caucasian Preferred.” These statements are bound to get you in trouble sooner rather than later. If you’re just starting out, have a professional create the ad for you as you learn the ropes.
• Hire a professional property management company. Professional property managers specialize in doing one thing – managing their clients’ rental properties right.
At this point, you’re now familiarized with the basics of the Fair Housing Act in Georgia. If you still need more help, get in touch with Vineyard Property Management. Our boutique approach to managing your Cobb or Cherokee rental property will ensure you get the most out of our services. Get in touch to learn more!