As a landlord, it is your responsibility to be as open and fair to each potential tenant as possible. After all, everybody is just looking for the same thing: a place to call their own, a place to kick up their feet to relax and take it easy.
But as a landlord, you are also a human being and as such there are some people you don’t get along with or some types of people that you would prefer not to live in your building. However, before you go off and make the decision to refuse to rent to someone it is important to understand what laws are in place to prevent unfair rental refusal prior to acting.
What are Florida’s Fair Housing Laws and How do they Affect My Ability to Refuse to Rent to Somebody?
The Federal Fair Housing Acts (42 U.S.Code § § 3601-3619) is a country-wide law that prevents certain types of discrimination from landlords. The intention of the law is clear: Americans deserve to find housing, regardless of who they are as people. This law has done a lot to help provide housing to people who would otherwise be discriminated against but it is not a perfect solution to discrimination.
For one, the protections under the Federal Fair Housing Act don’t cover every type of discrimination and so individual states either provide or fail to provide protections in these situations. In Florida, the fair housing laws in place prevent you from refusing to rent to somebody on grounds of:
- Color: The color of somebody’s skin is not a legally valid reason to refuse to rent to them. Note that this is separate from their race.
- Disability: A disability doesn’t just mean that somebody is in a wheelchair or has trouble walking. Mental disabilities are also protected under the law alongside physical disabilities and so you can’t refuse to rent to somebody just because they have a mental illness, or even a sexually transmitted infection like HIV.
- Familial Status: It is not legal to refuse to rent to somebody just because they have children. Likewise, if you try to change the price of the rental property to charge a fee for each person living there then this could be considered breaking Florida’s fair housing laws.
- National Origin: It doesn’t matter where somebody is from. An individual’s national origin is not a legal basis to refuse to rent to them.
- Race: The race of a prospective tenant is not an acceptable grounds for consideration of whether or not you can rent to somebody.
- Religion: It doesn’t matter whether or not somebody shares your religion or not, an individual’s religion can’t have anything to do with whether or not you rent to them.
- Sex: You aren’t allowed to decide you only want to rent to men or to women. Excluding potential tenants because of their sex is discrimination and illegal.
How Do I Prevent Myself from Accidentally Discriminating Against Applicants?
Most landlords that end up brushing up against anti-discrimination laws do so either verbally or through the rental applications they have people fill out. However, a little bit of good business conduct can let you navigate both without much hassle.
One of the big issues that come up in cases of rental discrimination are questions the landlord asked during the interview or tour of the property. Keep your questions only to those things that are relevant to a business agreement between two parties interested in the property:
- Employment, income and financial information: These are used to determine if they make enough money for the property.
- Rental history or criminal convictions: These let you determine if they can be trusted with the responsibility of upholding their rental agreement and maintain acceptable behavior while doing so.
- Social security or a driver’s licence: This is to show that they are a legal resident of the country.
- Ask if they smoke: This is to do with maintaining the property’s value and not a discriminatory question.
The other area that often causes problems is the rental application form itself. You should have a uniform form. That way everybody gets the same questions. If you only ask African-American’s about their past convictions or only ask women for their credit history, then this is not only discrimination, but it’s discrimination that you put into writing yourself.
So Who Can I Refuse to Rent to?
It may seem like you can’t refuse to rent to anybody but that isn’t the case. In South Florida you can refuse to rent to:
- Somebody on the grounds of their sexual orientation
- Somebody’s marital status (though keep in mind that this is separate from their familial status)
- An individual who doesn’t make enough money
- Someone with a poor credit score
- Somebody who has bad references with past landlords
- Someone with a criminal conviction
- Somebody with a prior eviction lawsuit
- Somebody with pets
You are allowed to set your own policies on things like pets and smokers. You can set policies on quite a lot of things so long as they are legitimate rental agreement terms. Your terms can’t be discriminatory but they are grounds on which you can choose not to rent to somebody.
You can also limit the number of people you rent a place to when it comes to roommates. However, you can’t set a rule across the board on occupancy if it would then cause families with children not to be able to rent.
Could an Attorney Help Me Work Through these Laws?
Understanding exactly what you are or aren’t allowed to do as a landlord in South Florida can be a little tricky. As you’ve probably already realized, being a landlord is a lot more complicated than it sounded at first.
That’s why it’s always a good idea to get yourself an attorney that can help you navigate any tricky legal issues you should encounter. Not only will an attorney be able to help you wrap your head around the best way to keep yourself safe from lawsuits but they’ll be the first one at your side to help you fight whenever landlord-tenant disputes arise.