Pennsylvania Fair Housing Act: An Overview
As a rental property owner, you are required to follow many rules and regulations. Even before you rent out your property, you need to ensure that you’re abiding by the law when marketing your rentals and screening prospects.
Among the responsibilities landlords have, they must adhere to the Federal Fair Housing Act. The act requires that landlords treat their tenants fairly and with respect in all landlord-tenant interactions. At its core, the Fair Housing Act prohibits all forms of housing discrimination not only in renting but also in the selling and financing of housing.
At the federal level, the government agency tasked with its implementation and handing of Fair Housing complaints is the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). At the state level, enforcement of the act is done by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.
What is the Purpose of the Fair Housing Act?
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) was passed by congress in 1968 to help stop instances of housing discrimination. It was normal for landlords, home sellers, and mortgage lenders at the time to discriminate against prospective clients based on their appearance.
That said, efforts to stamp out all forms of housing discrimination didn’t start with the Fair Housing Act. As a matter of fact, there were two prior attempts.
The first piece of legislation to fight discrimination to be passed was the Rumford Fair Housing. Authored by W. Byron Rumford, the Rumford Fair Housing Act was passed by the California Legislature in 1963 to help curb racial discrimination by landlords and property owners.
The other piece of legislation before the Fair Housing Act was the Civil Rights Act. It was passed in 1964, prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations and federally funded programs based on sex, religion, color, race, and national origin.
However, it wasn’t until the Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968 that real change was felt in housing-related matters.
What are the Protected Characteristics in the State of Pennsylvania?
Protected characteristics in Pennsylvania under the Fair Housing protections exist at two levels, federal and state. At the federal government level, the characteristics are race, color, religion, sex, disability, national origin, and familial status.
At the state level, Pennsylvania has also passed legislation to add more protections. They are over the age of 40 and use a service animal for people with disabilities. This means the act will prohibit discrimination based on these protected characteristics for those seeking housing assistance.
What Kinds of Homes are Covered Under Pennsylvania’s Fair Housing Law?
The Fair Housing Laws apply to all types of housing that are leased, rented, or sold. So, that includes single-family homes, condos, apartments, homeowners’ associations, and mobile home parks.
Exemptions do exist, though. In certain and limited circumstances, the Fair Housing Act exempts the following:
- Private clubs that limit occupancy to members.
- Housing is operated by religious organizations.
- Single-family houses are rented or sold by the owner without using an agent.
- Owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units.
How Can Pennsylvania Landlords Discriminate Against Tenants According to Fair Housing Standards?
Housing discrimination can occur in many different forms. The following are some examples:
- Familial status – Discriminating against a person because they are either married, single, or divorced amounts to illegality. When selecting a tenant to live in your property make the decision based not on their familial status, but on their rental history.
- Color – The color of one’s skin shouldn’t be a determining factor as to whether or not you should rent to them. Nor should color be a factor when it comes to responding to maintenance issues.
- Sex – You should treat all tenants the same regardless of their sex. If you screening them for instance, you should use one qualifying process no matter the tenant’s sex.
- National origin – A prospect’s national origin shouldn’t be considered when renting to them.
Other forms of housing discrimination are as follows:
- Running ads containing discriminatory language.
- Asking tenants illegal questions when screening them.
- Using a different tenant qualifying process when choosing persons to rent to.
- Setting different standards for tenants based on their race, color, or other protected characteristic.
- Terminating a tenant’s lease for a discriminatory reason.
- Saying your rental property is available or not available depending on the sex, national origin, or any other protected class of the prospective tenant.
- Steering a tenant away from a neighborhood or section of a community, which comprises a dominant racial or ethnic group.
What Rights do Tenants with Disabilities in Pennsylvania Have?
Under the Fair Housing regulations, a disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that significantly impacts at least one “major life activity.” Generally speaking, it’d be illegal for a landlord to discriminate against a person or persons due to their disability.
In addition, you must make reasonable accommodations and modifications to accommodate tenants with a disability. A reasonable accommodation is any change that you may need to make to your rental housing policy to help a disabled tenant enjoy their premises.
Examples of such accommodations include:
- Allowing the tenant to keep their service animal even when you don’t allow pets.
- Changing when the tenant can pay rent so that it coincides with their Social Security Disability Insurance payments.
As for modifications, you may need to make changes to the unit to give disabled persons an equal opportunity to use the property. That may mean doing any of the following:
- Installing special door handles.
- Lowering countertops.
- Installing wheelchair ramps.
- Installing visual doorbells or fire alarms.
When it comes to the responsibility for cost, Pennsylvania landlords can hold their renters liable for all the costs of modification. It’ll be their responsibility to return the apartment to its original condition before moving out.
How can Pennsylvania Landlords Avoid Discrimination Suits?
There are several things all landlords can do to ensure that they don’t get into any legal trouble when renting out their properties. Be sure to treat all tenants equally and fairly, run discrimination-free rental ads, and ask the right questions when screening tenants.
You should be sure to stay informed of any changes to landlord-tenant laws and the federal and state of Pennsylvania fair housing laws as they are always subject to change.
There you have it, a general guide to help you understand the Fair Housing laws! Do you still have more questions? If so, DeSantis Property Management can help.
If you need assistance with issues relating to the lease agreement, security deposit, or evictions, our team can help! We can also answer all your questions on the Fair Housing Laws, as well as on any other aspect of property management.
Disclaimer: This post is meant to be used for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for professional legal advice from a licensed attorney. If you need help, please contact a legal professional.