Massachusetts Fair Housing Act: An Overview

As a landlord in Massachusetts, you have legal obligations to abide by. Among these is the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The Fair Housing Act is a federal law that requires mortgage lenders, home sellers, and landlords to engage in non-discriminatory practices when it comes to housing matters.

Violating the Fair Housing Act can not only hurt your reputation, but can also make you liable to hefty fines. In today’s article, we’re going to explain the Fair Housing Act in detail so you can become an even better landlord.

What Is the Fair Housing Act?

The Fair Housing Act was first put before Congress in 1966. It was meant to address the rampant discrimination that existed in housing-related matters at the time. However, it wasn’t until 1968 that Congress finally passed the legislation after it had lay dormant for two years.

The Federal Fair Housing Act is also known as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act. It prohibits discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on 7 protected classes.

The classes are: race, color, nationality, religion, sex, familial status, and disability.

Does Massachusetts State Law Add Extra Protections?

Yes, it does! Apart from the 7 protected classes at the federal level, Massachusetts state law adds another 7 classes to the list. The extra protections are: income source, sexual orientation, genetic information, military status, marital status, age, and gender identity.

Who Oversees Fair Housing in Massachusetts?

At the federal level, it is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that oversees fair housing. At the state level, though, the government agency that handles housing discrimination is the state’s Attorney General Civil Rights Division.

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What Are Some Examples of Discriminatory Practices That Landlords Must Avoid?

  • Discrimination based on race. You cannot ask prospective tenants questions regarding their race.
  • Discrimination based on skin color. As a landlord, you must treat tenants of all skin colors equally and fairly.
  • Discrimination based on religion. You must not refuse to rent your home, hold the tenant to different eligibility standards, or even try to evict them because of their religion.
  • Discrimination based on nationality. It’s wrong to show preference or limitation based on a prospective tenant’s nationality. Such discrimination can be based either on their language, country of birth, or ancestral origins.
  • Discrimination based on familial status. As far as familial status is concerned under the FHA, whether a tenant is single, married, or divorced should be none of your concern as a landlord. The only exception here is for housing for older persons, which includes senior housing facilities.
  • Discrimination based on sex. It’d be unlawful for you to use sex as a determinant when renting out your home. You must treat all genders equally in all matters.
  • Discrimination based on disability. Disabled tenants have an equal right to enjoy their rented premises. For this reason, landlords have an obligation to make reasonable accommodations and modifications to their rental units whenever requested.

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Other actions that may qualify as discriminatory as per the Fair Housing Act include the following.

  • Refusing to rent to a tenant or charging them higher rent based on either one of the protected classes.
  • Steering a tenant away from a particular property based on one of the protected classes under the FHA.
  • Harassing a tenant based on any protected class.
  • Changing the terms of the lease agreement for different tenants.
  • Retaliating against your tenant for reporting you to the fair housing authorities.
  • Creating rules that treat tenants with children differently than renters without them.
  • Showing preference or limitation in your rental advertisements.
  • Increasing the security deposit for certain tenants.

Are There Exemptions to the Fair Housing Act?

Yes, there are! There are a few, very limited exemptions to the Fair Housing Act. They include the following.

  • Single-family homes that the owner rents out without using an agent or a real estate agent. The owner must not own more than 3 such homes at a time, though.
  • Housing for persons aged at least 55 years.
  • A dwelling with a maximum of 4 units, if the owner of the property dwells in one of the units.
  • Housing operated by religious organizations or clubs.

What Does the Fair Housing Act Say About Disabled Tenants?

Both the Federal Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) work conjunctively when it comes to providing protections for persons with disabilities.

tenants moving in

But first things first, what qualifies as a disability? According to ADA, a disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. The following are common examples of disabilities.

  • Alcoholism
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Visual impairments, such as blindness
  • Hearing impairments, such as deafness
  • Mental illness
  • Mobility impairments
  • Drug addiction
  • Anything else that limits major life activities

As a landlord, you have a responsibility to make reasonable accommodations and modifications upon request by the tenant. Examples include the following.

  • Installing a grab bar in the bathroom.
  • Permitting a tenant to transfer to the ground-floor unit.
  • Assigning an accessible parking space for a tenant with mobility impairment.

How Can Landlords Ensure They Abide by the Fair Housing Act?

The following tips should help you stay compliant with the act.

  • Use non-discriminatory language when advertising your rental property. Avoid statements such as “No Kids Allowed”.
  • Keep the rental pricing consistent for all potential tenants. Charging tenants differently would obviously be discriminatory.

Ask the right questions during the tenant screening exercise. For example: how many people will you be living with? When are you looking to move in? Why are you moving? Certain questions should be a no-no, however. Examples include the following: How many children do you have? Where are you originally from?

Bottom Line

Now you’re well conversant with the Massachusetts Fair Housing laws. But if you still have questions or need expert help in managing your rental property, Howzer Property Management can help. Howzer Property Management is a top-rated property management company in Plymouth, MA. Get in touch to learn more.

This blog should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state. Laws change, and this post might not be updated at the time of your reading. Please contact us for any questions you have in regards to this content or any other aspect of your property management needs.