In our last posting we talked about how to ready your property to go on the rental market and touched on some of the responsibilities involved. In this posting, we'll talk about some things you need to know about Fair Housing Laws and some ideas to help you advertise effectively. If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to add your comments.
Advertising & Fair Housing Laws
When advertising a rental property you have take into consideration fair housing laws. When we speak of fair housing laws, we are referring specifically to the Fair Housing Act that originated as part of Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. This act prohibits discrimination against a potential tenant on the grounds of race, color, familial status, handicap, sex, religion or national origin. Landlords must avoid issues of discrimination in each of these areas. Thus it is illegal to advertise your preference for or against any of these protected classes. So when you are advertising to rent a unit, be extremely careful in the wording of your advertisements and keep the focus of the ad on your property and not on the people you wish to attract.
Because of the broad language of the laws affecting fair housing, a simple expression of a preference can get a landlord into trouble. There are unfortunately, plenty of opportunities to inadvertently discriminate against prospective tenants. For instance, simply describing an apartment as ‘perfect for a couple' discourages prospective tenants who have children. This type of communication is considered discriminatory against individuals with children. Even a policy that does not expressly forbid a certain group can be problematic. A landlord may express a preference of renting to no more than two people for a two-bedroom apartment, which would effectively prohibit families.
It can often be confusing for the average landlord to know when and how to avoid violating fair housing provisions. In general, the simplest ways for a landlord to avoid problems is to refrain from discussing any sort of tenant or personal preferences. Avoid asking questions about the various protected categories. Stay away from asking about age, marital status, nationality or religious beliefs. It is fair that a landlord ask the number of individuals in a prospective tenant's household, but steer clear of asking the ages and sex of those individuals.
Advertising starts with the "For Rent" sign you put outside. I see many owners put battered hardware store bought signs out with the phone number written in barely legible permanent marker. While certainly cheap, this screams to the prospective tenant that if the landlord cares little about the sign, he'll probably care little about my needs. Spend a little money and have a professionally made sign done or at the very least use self-stick lettering/numbers. It makes a big difference.
Web sites such as CraigsList are very effective for finding prospective tenants. Attract their attention to your ad, "Amazing house in art district" gets far more attention then "3BR House For Rent". Remember to add photos to your listing. If you're part of a managed community, don't forget to post on the community bulletin board. In addition, many real estate/property management companies, will for a fee, list your property on the real estate MLS system and also find you a pre-qualified tenant (more on qualifying tenants in a future posting).
Make sure your rental application is up to date, your advertisements are worded properly and you are in legal compliance with Fair Housing Practices. In our next posting, we'll talk about how to qualify a tenant and about rental applications.