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Fair Housing Act violations: How to avoid them during listings

A lot of first-time landlords run into trouble with the Fair Housing Act at the very start -- right when they list their property for rent. Many of them may not even realize that they're actually being discriminatory in their ads.

If you're a new landlord (or even an experienced one that needs to brush up on your knowledge), here are some tips that can help you avoid problems when you list your rentals:

Focus your ad on what your property offers -- not who might enjoy it

It's a natural tendency to look at a rental with a big yard and think, "That's perfect for kids," but you want to avoid any description in your ads that might imply you are restricting applications to only certain kinds of renters.

Eliminate preferential language or words that discourage any particular type of applicant

For example, "Close walking distance to St. Mary's Church" could be interpreted as a desire to keep away renters who aren't Christian. Advertising a home that has a bedroom on the ground floor as "great for retirees" could be taken as intentional discouragement of people with children. Advertising an apartment with the words "professionals only," for example, discriminates against disabled people who cannot work.

Familiarize yourself with the Fair Housing Act's rules

In essence, the rules are designed to ensure that every potential tenant (or actual tenant) receives equal treatment -- regardless of his or her race, color, religion, sex, familial status, country of origin or disability. In addition, your local jurisdiction may have additional laws that protect even more classes of people from housing discrimination.

Knowing the laws regarding housing discrimination is your best defense against a Fair Housing Act violation. If you are accused of a violation, however, make sure that you learn more about your legal defenses.

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