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Are You Subject to Fair Housing Laws?

By Tracey March

April is Fair Housing Month, which is a great time for both tenants and property owners to study up on their respective rights and responsibilities. But believe it or not, some people aren’t even required to comply with fair housing legislation.

Federal and state laws prohibit rental owners, property managers, and landlords from discriminating against certain groups in any aspect of renting residential real estate, including advertising and tenant screening. However, these laws exempt certain properties.

Federal Law: Fair Housing Act Exemptions

Single-family homes rented without the use of a real estate agent or advertising are exempt from the federal Fair Housing Act as long as the private landlord/owner doesn’t own more than three homes at the time.

Apartments of four units or less are also exempt if the owner lives in one of the units. However, even if this multifamily exemption applies to you, your rental advertising must still comply with the Act.

Other exemptions include the rental of a single room in a home, qualified senior housing, and housing operated by religious or private organizations, if certain requirements are met.

State Fair Housing Laws

Regardless of the federal exemptions, many local and state jurisdictions have their own fair housing laws, often with additional protected classes and different exemptions. For example, California’s fair housing law covers any form of housing which can be described as a “business establishment”–a term which courts have broadly interpreted to include almost every type of housing. Accordingly, the owner-occupied multifamily homes and the single-family homes exempted under the federal fair housing law are not exempt from the California law.

Even if you are exempt under state or federal fair housing laws, those laws were enacted to prevent discrimination in the provision of shelter–a basic human need. Renting in a way that is consistent with the spirit of the law isn’t only good business, it might also protect your karma.

As always, the information provided here is just that–it is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. If you have any particular questions or issues, please consult an attorney.

April 23, 2013 More

Do Fair Housing Laws Apply to Seniors?

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.

April 17, 2013 | 2 Comments More

Keeping a Good Tenant is a Good Investment

By Tracey March

Tenants who pay rent on time, keep their rental homes tidy, and are neighborly to fellow tenants, save property managers and owners a ton of money in advertising, marketing, and “make ready” expenses.

A high turn over rate of desirable tenants takes money right out of your pocket and makes a rental complex, single family home, or condo a far less valuable asset for the owner.

If your turnover rate is high among good tenants, listed below are a few of the common mistakes you might be making and ways to fix them.

1. The main reason customers stop supporting a business is that they feel they were treated poorly.

In Calming Upset Customers, Rebecca Morgan describes the reasons people stop being your customers:

  • 3% move out of the area
  • 5% buy a house
  • 9% find a better place
  • 14% just simply don’t like their apartment
  • 65% felt slighted in some way by their landlord or staff

A 65% customer loss is huge; however, the good news is that great customer service can control that number.

2. When tenants don’t complain, you don’t get an opportunity to solve the problem.

Ninety-six percent of customers don’t complain when they have a problem, according to a Technical Assistance Research study. This means that for every complaint made by a resident, there are nine more renters who have a complaint but don’t speak up.

So it makes sense that the residents who get the most upset are often the ones you don’t notice. They drop their rental payments in the rent box every month. They never complain about loud neighbors, even though others do. They change their own air conditioning and heating filters, rather than calling the office.

The thing to remember about complaints is that you want and need to hear them if you want an opportunity to fix them and to show your tenants that you can be responsive to their concerns. If your renters don’t complain when they have an issue, they’ll move out without giving you a reason and tell their friends that your rental properties weren’t worth the rent. Or, even worse. They’ll go on Yelp and give your property or property management company a bad rating.

Think about it. When was the last time you complained to management about the service or food at a restaurant? You likely complained to the person you were with, but you also probably told several people over the following months, and maybe they told some other people too.

Residents who complain and are satisfied with the response are likely to renew their lease agreements.

3. Encourage complaints by giving your tenants opportunities to voice their concerns.

Here are some tools to help tenants alert you to potential problems:

  • Periodically, place a “Just Checking” card on your tenants front doors, asking for maintenance requests.
  • Leave a “Rate Your Maintenance” card when a service request is completed, so you know the work was completed to both your standard and that of the tenant.
  • Include a “Maintenance Request” card in each month’s rental invoice, to give your tenants a friendly reminder that repairs and maintenance are important to you.

4. Remember that sometimes resident may have a problem that they haven’t articulated to you.

Whatever the reason, residents do get upset–justified or not. In order to make a resident happy, you must determine the source of the problem. A few reasons for an upset resident may be:

  • Don’t feel listened to.
  • Embarrassed by doing something incorrectly.
  • Expectations have not been met.
  • Already stressed-out from a day at work.
  • Had a fight with spouse.
  • Was told two different things by different people in the office.
  • Was promised something that hasn’t been delivered.
  • Has waited too long.
  • Damage done to personal items.
  • Told “I’ll call you back,” and never received a call.
  • Someone in the office has argued wit him.
  • Was given an out-of-the-blue reply.
  • Tenant’s integrity or honesty was questioned.
  • Someone laughed at something the tenant didn’t feel was funny.

Recognize that you can’t fix every problem. Just do your best to respond in a timely fashion.

March 21, 2013 | 3 Comments More

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