As a Virginia housing provider, you have to be updated with the laws relating to housing and make sure that your real estate investment remains legally compliant. The Fair Housing Law in Virginia does not only apply to buy houses but also to property owners who offer residential housing services.

We at Keyrenter Property Management Richmond, have put together an overview of the state and federal law.

What is Fair Housing?

The Virginia Fair Housing Law aims to provide individuals with equal housing opportunities and prevent housing discrimination. This fair housing law covers renters, buyers, and those who are applying for housing assistance, looking for resources to fund their housing, or even appraising their homes.

The federal Fair Housing Act essentially exists to provide guidance and advice to landlords, renters, buyers, and lenders on what is considered a fair or discriminatory housing practice.

Who Oversees Fair Housing?

This law is governed by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development also known as HUD. It’s their duty to answer questions and handle complaints related to housing discrimination. They are experts on what is considered a fair or discriminatory housing practice and answer any questions you may have about fair housing rights and laws.

What are the Seven Protected Classes?

The following are the seven protected classes at the federal level:

lawyer sitting at their desk with a degree and the status of lady justice on display

Race

It’s illegal to reject an interested renter because of their race. Any terms used on your marketing materials that lead towards racial discrimination are also considered illegal under the act. It’s also discriminatory to ask questions regarding race during the application or screening process.

Color

A landlord cannot prefer a renter of specific color over another as it’s considered discriminatory if you based your approval on a person’s color. Instead, assess candidates on their ability to pay rent and take care of the premises.

National origin

A renter cannot choose their national origin so it is considered discriminatory to refuse tenants based on this characteristic. Establish a solid screening process and be consistent in following it regardless of the tenant’s protected class.

Religion

It’s illegal under the act to reject an applicant based on their religion. When marketing or screening tenants refrain from asking about their beliefs. The same principles apply when dealing with your existing tenants. You cannot treat certain tenants differently due to their religious beliefs.

Sex

It’s considered discriminatory to refuse to rent to a certain gender identity or sexual orientation. Always make it a point to be fair with all interested tenants and base decisions on their ability to care for the unit by checking their credit score, proof of income, and history.

Familial Status

Housing providers cannot choose to rent to a childless couple over a family with little kids or even a pregnant woman. It is considered discriminatory to do so. Housing providers also cannot ask questions during the screening process about a person’s familial status. 

close us of someone in a wheelchair

Disability

As a Virginia landlord, you must refrain from discriminating against differently-abled renters. Landlords must allow some reasonable accommodations to be made to the rental for disabled renters. This includes things like an assistance animal or service animal.

Fair Housing Act Exemptions 

There are some exceptions to the Fair Housing Act. They include the following:

  • Religious Organizations – Housing built and designed to cater to religious members are exempted from the Fair Housing Act.
  • Private Club or Memberships – Clubs can deny housing to those who are non-members.
  • Local Law Occupancy Standard – If there is a specific maximum occupancy set to your property, you may be able to limit occupancy.
  • Owner-occupied Housing – If you live in one of the units of your property with a total of four units, you are exempted from the fair housing regulations.

Types of Housing Discrimination 

As a Virginia residential landlord, you have to be aware of the two different types of discrimination:

  • Intentional Discrimination – If a landlord intentionally refuses an applicant or treats them differently because of their physical attributes or characteristics that they have no control over like their national origin or race.
  • Unintentional Discrimination – If your intention for refusing a renter or treating a tenant differently is because of reasons you thought would be advantageous for them but is considered discriminatory, this is called unintentional discrimination. This type of discrimination is subtle so be careful with how you treat tenants.

person filling out a rental application on a clipboard

How to Provide Fair Housing

Virginia landlords can provide fair housing on the following:

  • Advertising – Focus your marketing materials on the amenities and unique characteristics of the house rather than on the type of tenant you’re looking for.
  • Answering Questions – Be honest when answering questions about the house and refrain from lying about housing availability.
  • Pricing – Be fair when setting your rates and be consistent with your pricing. Do not charge higher rates for that certain tenant but not for others.
  • Accepting Applications – You are required to accept all applications from interested and qualified applicants. Rank them based on their ability to pay and uphold tenant responsibilities. Ask for documents to prove this.
  • Renting – Existing tenants must be treated fairly when handling conflicts and disputes. Always refer back to your lease agreement when enforcing house rules and always document requests and complaints.
  • Screening – Do not include questions that lead to discriminating against the protected classes. Build your screening process and be consistent when following it.

Bottom Line

Under the Virginia Fair Housing Law you must treat prospective and existing tenants equally. You also need to be aware of landlord-tenant laws, security deposit policies, early lease termination, and the legal eviction process. Consider hiring a property manager to assist you in staying legally compliant. 

Here at Keyrenter Property Management Richmond, we would be happy to help you manage your property. We offer full-service property management solutions. Contact us today to learn more!

 

Disclaimer: 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.