- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 2004

A recent housing-discrimination case from Texas reminded me that there are still

landlords and investors who just don’t get fair-housing laws.

Here are the rules in a nutshell: You must offer your property to anyone who has the financial wherewithal and credit rating to afford the rental payments regardless of these seven characteristics: race, color, nationality, sex, religion, familial status and handicap.

Johnny Brown is a subject of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development action charging discrimination against Bennie Rogers, who wanted to rent a unit at Mr. Brown’s building.

In short, the complaint says a leasing agent told Mr. Rogers, who is black, “Johnny Brown does not rent to coloreds.”

Mr. Rogers reported this to HUD, and Mr. Brown is now defending a Fair Housing Act complaint.

A HUD investigation into the complaint found that Mr. Brown had rented to only one person of color 10 years earlier and that the person was part of a biracial couple.

Each month, I teach a fair-housing class. Periodically, a student will approach the front and try to finagle his way around this law.

“But what if the landlord just doesn’t like the way the tenant sounds or looks?” the question goes. “Doesn’t he need to feel comfortable about who he’s renting to?”

Of course, the landlord needs to feel comfortable with the people he’s renting to — so long as his comfort level has nothing to do with race, color, nationality, sex, religion, familial status or handicap.

A landlord’s investigation of a tenant should include all financial aspects of his background, and this can be done by hiring a competent Realtor or property management company.

If you need help understanding who’s covered by the Fair Housing Act, visit www.hud.gov and click Fair Housing on the left side of the page.

In the meantime, let’s get this straight. Here’s what’s meant by “protected classes”:

• Race. Caucasian, African descent, Hispanic, Asian, etc.

• Color. The song goes, “Red and yellow, black and white/they’re all precious in His sight.” That works for landlords, too.

• Nationality. If they’ve lived in any nation on the planet in the Milky Way at some point, you can’t use it against them.

• Sex.

• Religion. You cannot use religion of any kind or lack of it as a means of discrimination, unless your property is distinctly a home for retired Baptist ministers, or something similar for another denomination.

• Familial status. Whether they have one or don’t have one, you must offer the property to them if they want it.

• Handicap. You can’t look at their physical challenges and decide you can’t rent to them. Additionally, you must allow “reasonable accommodation” (meaning you provide them a parking space closer to the door, etc.) and allow “reasonable modification.” (If they want to widen doors, lower light sockets, etc., they can at their expense.)

Depending on where you live, you may have other protected classes as established by your state or local jurisdiction. However, the local statutes cannot violate the federal statutes.

Some other protected classes I’ve seen include:

• Sexual orientation.

• Age.

• Source of income. In this case, you cannot decide not to rent based on knowledge that the person is on welfare or uses a Section 8 housing voucher to pay rent.

• Ancestry.

• Appearance.

• Political affiliation.

• Matriculation. This is often an issue in neighborhoods around colleges or universities.

This is not an all-inclusive list, so do your homework as a landlord before making nonfinancial decisions on your tenant applicants.

Look at this list, and get this down: We’re all in a protected class, and that’s the beauty of it.

M. Anthony Carr is the author of “Real Estate Investing Made Simple.” Post questions at his Web log (http://commonsensereal@estate.blogspot.com).

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