Please note: This article is not legal advice. For up-to-date information and guidance, reach out to your attorney or Real Property Associates.
As a Seattle property management company, it's not uncommon for us to see a preference in investors to have females only in their Seattle rental homes. After all, females tend to tick all the right boxes when it comes to caring for a property. A bias towards female renters may also have been caused by negative past experiences from their male counterparts who simply didn't take care of a rental property as they should.
Although you may feel that you have a right to make that and other decisions regarding your property, discrimination against renters by property owners is outlawed by the Fair Housing Act. This means that while labeling your property as a 'females only' rental unit may appear inoffensive, it can land you into serious legal problems.
You cannot discriminate against male renters unless:
- You are renting out only one room of the property you occupy
- Your rental property is a single-sex dormitory for an educational facility.
As an investor, you are also expected not to treat male and female renters differently based on your personal views when it comes to gender roles. For instance, if a renter is expected to do some yard work to maintain the property, you cannot turn away female renters because you believe that a man would do a better job.
Other Aspects of Rental Housing Discrimination
In rental housing, discrimination refers to disparate treatment of a renter or renters based on their gender, race, color, religion, age, marital status, sexual orientation, source of income, or disability. Depending on where you invest, there are additional protected classes that can apply.
- Discrimination does not have to be deliberate, intentional, or malicious.
- Rather, actions or unintended comments that could be passed on as 'only a joke' may be considered discriminatory or offensive based on the context.
- As a Seattle property owner, you are not only obligated to treat your renters fairly throughout their lease agreement but also on all matters related to your real estate transaction—including renter screening and selection.
This can often be a challenge for individual investors because they are directly involved in the screening process. It's far safer and less risky for property owners to place new renters when they let a Seattle property management company handle the screening process for them.
Direct vs. Indirect Discrimination
Direct discriminatory behavior happens when you treat certain Seattle renters more favorably than others due to their sex, marital status, and so on. In this case, renting out your property to females only would be considered direct discrimination. The following instances may be considered as direct discrimination:
- Providing different rental property maintenance or eviction criteria for males and females
- Posting an ad that clearly states 'no children allowed'
- Choosing not to show the upper floors of your Seattle rental homes to a disabled person
- Telling an applicant that you have no available apartments due to their gender, nationality, race, or color
- Charging certain renters higher security deposits or rent due to their gender, race, political affiliation, nationality, and so on.
Indirect discrimination happens when a property rule, policy, or procedure that should apply to all renters has a disproportionate effect on certain groups of renters.
- Enforcing a 'no pets' policy to all renters may be considered discriminatory against disabled residents.
- Setting unnecessarily high or restrictive standards such as exceptionally high-income levels or requiring all potential renters to have a minimum number of years when it comes to rental history. This may be considered discriminatory against young renters.
- Unrealistic expectations on the allowed number of occupants on your rental property. This may exclude large families or expectant mothers.
- Differential treatment when it comes to your property’s amenities can also be an issue. For instance, preventing some renters from accessing recreational facilities if you have a multi-family investment property.
How to Select the Right Renters Safely and Legally
State and federal anti-discrimination rules limit what you can do or say during the renter selection process as well as the entire lease term. Apart from familiarizing yourself with fair housing rules, the below few pointers will help you avoid getting into legal issues when choosing residents.
- Hire Seattle property management that understands these rules: As the property owner, you want to reduce liability. You can do this by working with a third party that adheres to fair housing rules.
- Be consistent: Treat all of your residents equally. By setting tougher standards for people of a certain gender, race, or age, you could be setting yourself up for lawsuits.
- Make decisions based on facts: You are free to reject renter applications due to bad credit histories, past behavior, a lack of verifiable income, and any other reason that makes a potential renter a risk. However, you need to have followed the law when arriving at such a decision. For instance, follow the right protocols when checking their credit histories, employment, and income.
- Document your expectations when advertising your Seattle rental homes: let applicants know what to expect during the screening process. Mention what reports they will need to authorize you to access. These may include background checks, rental history, and credit reports.
One of the advantages of hiring competent Seattle property management is that they have a better understanding of federal and state laws regarding discrimination. They know how to stay within the confines of the law when screening, selecting, and even when evicting renters.
Screening and placing renters aren't the only element of a successful real estate investment. Learn more about growing your portfolio in the Seattle rental market with an eye on the right strategies! Download your free copy of our guide to real estate investing.