Landlords are required under federal law to treat their clients fairly when it comes to housing-related matters. They must do so based on certain protected classes, including race and color.
For example, it would be unlawful for a Virginia residential landlord to refuse to rent to a prospective tenant on the basis of their skin color.
Some states have also passed legislation to further expand the provisions of the act. Virginia is one of them. The following are answers to commonly asked questions regarding the Fair Housing Act in Virginia.
How many classes are protected from housing discrimination per the Fair Housing Policy?
Fair housing requirements apply to Virginia tenants and home buyers who are protected against discrimination from fair housing at both the federal and state level. At the federal level, the seven protected classes for residential housing are race, color, religion, disability, sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation), national origin, and familial status.
The Virginia Fair Housing board has included protection for three additional classes; elderliness (applies to tenants over the age of 55), source of funds, and status as a veteran.
Who is not protected under the Federal Fair Housing Act in Virginia?
It is also important to be aware of the classes not covered by the law. These include students, unmarried couples (marital status), and smokers.
Keep in mind that even if these classes are not listed under Virginia state or federal fair housing requirements, a local ordinance may protect them. Therefore, a landlord should draft a fair housing policy only after researching Virginia’s state law as well as local ordinances.
Who does the Fair Housing Law prohibit from engaging in discrimination?
The term ‘housing’ is quite broad. So, which housing providers exactly does the Fair Housing Act prohibit from engaging in discriminatory housing practices related to housing opportunities? Any person listed below is required to abide by the Fair Housing Act (FHA) laws.
- Virginia residential landlords
- Real estate agents and a real estate board
- Property owners/managers
- Insurance providers
- Homeowner associations
- Mortgage lenders
How can a landlord avoid discriminating against a tenant?
As a landlord, these are acts that may constitute as housing discrimination in Virginia per Fair Housing Law.
- Terminating a lease based on a tenant’s race, color, gender identity, national origin or any other Fair Housing Act protected classes.
- Establishing different terms or conditions for different renters based upon the clauses discussed in the Fair Housing Act.
- Refusing to rent to certain tenants from specific protected groups.
- Treating renters differently based on their protected class such as familial status.
- Falsely stating that a rental unit is unavailable to a potential tenant who is protected under Virginia’s FHA.
- Making a statement that indicates preference or limitation because of a person’s race, color, national origin, sexual orientation or any other protected class.
What are the penalties for violating the Virginia Fair Housing Act?
As a landlord, discriminating against your tenant can turn out to be quite costly for you and your business.
If you’re found guilty of discriminating against your tenant for the first time, you’ll need to pay a maximum of $16,000 in civil penalties. For violations that occur within the preceding five-year period, the maximum penalty is $37,500. And for two or more previous violations that occur within the preceding 7-year period, the maximum penalty is $65,000.
How can a landlord provide fair housing?
It's important to understand how the Fair Housing laws affect every part of the rental process—from advertising a vacant unit to accepting applications and screening prospective tenants.
Always provide honest answers to the questions prospective tenants ask you. For example, if asked about available units, you must show them all equally to interested parties. You cannot provide different terms for different people.
You cannot charge one tenant more funds than another for the same unit, regardless of any differences between them (such as the number of children).
Accept applications from all interested and qualified parties. If, however, a party is unable to meet the listed rent you may refuse their application. You cannot deny applications based on any of the protected classes.
In your advertising, it is important to use non-discriminatory language. While you are allowed to list requirements including the ability to pay rent and provide references, you cannot use language that discriminates against protected classes. Avoid statements such as “Males Preferred,” “Ideal for a Professional,” or “No Service Animals Allowed.”
When deciding to rent your unit, treat all protected classes equally and fairly. A good tip is to ask the same set of questions to all of your tenants.
Once your unit is rented, make sure to provide repairs and maintenance for all tenants in a timely matter. You also cannot evict a tenant based on their protected class.
Providing Reasonable Accommodations
You must make reasonable accomodations for any individuals who are mentally or physically disabled. The renter pays for these modifications.
We hope that this article answered your questions about the Fair Housing Laws in Virginia. While most of the rules and regulations are self-evident, its important to make sure that you are treating your tenants fairly. This helps not only your reputation and credibility, but prevents any legal issues with your tenants.
For more information and questions about the Virginia Fair Housing law or any other landlord-tenant laws, reach out to DRP Management. We offer a customer-first approach to ensure your unique property management needs are met. Our property management services include property marketing, tenant screening, and property repairs. Get in touch to learn more!
Disclaimer: This blog isn’t a substitute for professional legal advice from a qualified attorney. Laws change and this information may not be updated at the time of your reading. For expert help in tenant discrimination disputes or any other aspect of Virginia landlord-tenant laws, DRP Management can help.