Do Fair Housing Laws Apply to Seniors?

| April 17, 2013 More

By Tracey March

This decade the number of renters 65 and above will grow by a stunning 2 million, as aging Baby Boomers hit retirement in record numbers, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies. Every day for the next 18 years about 10,000 people will turn 65.

If you’re a real estate investor you probably should consider targeting this attractive segment of renters, but before you draft a senior marketing plan there are legal factors to keep in mind.

The Fair Housing Act prevents you from steering or advertising in a way that indicates a preference for age. You can’t advertise that your rental unit or home would be perfect for, say, “an older couple” even if you’ve renovated the unit with seniors in mind. Moreover, if you manage a multilevel apartment complex you can’t, for example, steer seniors to first-floor apartments even if you think they’d be more comfortable there. You must show seniors–and everyone else–all your available units.

With increasing age also comes the likelihood of disability, which is also covered by fair housing laws. Landlords must provide disabled people with equal housing opportunities. This includes allowing a seeing eye dog for a blind person even if you don’t allow pets. You would also have to let a wheel chair bound tenant build a ramp, add a stair lift, or modify a bathroom if they chose to do so at their own expense.

If you have less than four single-family rentals that you manage yourself and don’t advertise to the public, federal housing laws do not apply to you. But almost all states and some jurisdictions have their own fair housing regulations that in many cases offer more protections and fewer exemptions than federal law.

A good way to avoid running afoul of the law is to implement a thorough tenant screening process and to consult an attorney. Another alternative is to hire a professional property management company. As part of their licensing education, property managers are trained in avoiding problems with fair housing laws and how to properly screen potential tenants.

Given the legal constraints, have you attempted to market your rental unit to senior citizens?

As always, this article is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.

Category: Fair Housing, Marketing, Real Estate Law

Comments (2)

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  1. Solid article. I would like to add that compounding the problem of an aging population is that more people are obtaining handicap placards. So when a resident requests accommodation close to home, it behooves the property to comply as much as possible, especially when it comes to Fair Housing law.

  2. Tracey March says:

    Great input Michael, thanks.

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