As a property owner and landlord, you want to do the best you can to provide a great experience for your tenants and yourself. This includes finding reliable tenants and knowing you’re in compliance with the law, so you don’t have any problems. However, with so many housing laws, it’s easy to miss a few important details.
Two laws – the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act – are the laws most often confused when it comes to making housing accessible. While they’re similar and do have some overlap, they are separate laws and some misunderstandings can land you in hot water.
The Fair Housing Act was created in 1968 to prevent landlords from discriminating against tenants based on race, gender, color, religion, disability, familial status, or national origin. The Americans With Disabilities Act was passed in 1990 as a comprehensive civil rights law to protect people with disabilities from discrimination in public spaces.
Here are 4 of the most common misconceptions about these two laws:
Misconception 1: I can evict a hoarder for collecting trash
One of the biggest misconceptions about being a homeowner is the amount of control you have over what tenants do inside of your home. You do have some control, for example, tenants can’t destroy your property without paying for the damage. They can’t make major improvements without your consent. They can’t let garbage pile up and attract rodents and flies, and they can’t violate the terms of the lease without repercussions, including eviction.
However, when your tenants are hoarders, even if letting garbage pile up is part of their disorder, it’s not going to be easy to remove them from your home. You need to be extra careful before initiating an eviction.
Hoarding has already been considered a disability under Fair Housing laws for a long time, but in May 2013, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) added hoarding to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). Hoarding is now an officially recognized mental disorder. This makes hoarders a protected class and evicting someone within a protected class requires care.
Use common sense
Caution and common sense are imperative when handling a situation with a tenant who displays hoarding tendencies. Since hoarding is an officially recognized mental disability, as a landlord, you have an obligation to work with the tenant and try to accommodate them before taking any legal action. That means working with them to remedy the situation that’s causing concern so the tenant can keep their home.
To accommodate someone with hoarding tendencies, create a plan to clean up the home or apartment. Some hoarders do succeed when they have outside help from others. However, be realistic about where the situation is going. After the home is cleaned up, they’re likely to start hoarding again. If they’re hoarding material goods that don’t do any harm, like newspapers or boxes of stuff you’d find at a garage sale, you don’t have much to worry about.
If the tenant won’t cooperate, make sure you document everything. You may need to evict the tenant as a last resort, and if you do, you’ll need that documentation.
Misconception 2: The ADA applies to dwelling units
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law that applies to public accommodations, not dwelling units. If you’re renting out apartments and a tenant calls to ask you about your “ADA units,” they’re misinformed.
The ADA applies to places like grocery stores, hotel rooms, restaurants, and government-owned housing. The law also applies to the publicly accessible areas of multifamily properties like parking lots and rental offices. However, the law does not apply to the actual dwelling units.
This distinction is important to understand in case a tenant asks about the accessibility of your units. Understanding this will prevent you from getting involved in a heated discussion with a misinformed potential tenant.
If a tenant does call to ask about “ADA units” politely let them know that the ADA applies to public accommodations, and then proceed to describe your units to the caller in a way that helps answer their questions.
If you’re working on getting compliant with all housing laws, keep in mind that relying on meeting ADA requirements won’t result in being FHA compliant. Don’t be fooled by design companies who speak about ADA compliance. The last thing you want to do is have to rebuild your property because it isn’t FHA compliant.
Misconception 3: Fair Housing laws don’t apply when the property isn’t HUD funded
This misconception was more common several years ago, but it still pops up from time to time. HUD awards grants to organizations for building properties, but that funding isn’t what determines FHA compliance.
Former prosecutor Terry Kitay, who prosecuted fair housing cases for HUD in eight states, explains, “Clients used to tell me they didn’t have to worry about fair housing because their properties weren’t funded by HUD. But this kind of confusion isn’t as bad as it was 10 years ago.”
Kitay points out that the confusion between the ADA and the Fair Housing Act is like using the Kleenex brand name to describe all tissues. The ADA is a well-known law and, therefore, gets the credit and blame for everything. The two laws are separate.
The Fair Housing Act applies to almost all housing situations, but there are exceptions. For instance, when a building has fewer than five units and one is occupied by the owner, the FHA doesn’t generally apply. The same goes for single-family homes rented without a broker. The FHA also exempts private clubs and senior housing.
The FHA isn’t the only law you need to be aware of. Some local ordinances have passed laws that overlap the FHA and provide stricter requirements. Always make sure you’re current with local laws.
Misconception 4: A unit is considered ground floor only if it’s on the first level
The Fair Housing Act requires ground floor units to be reinforced and able to accept a tenant’s accommodation (like installing grab bars in the bathroom). Ground floor units must also be easily accessible.
Depending on the terrain, the ground floor might end up leading to the second level of the whole building. However, that is considered the ground floor, according to the FHA.
The laws can be confusing – Green Residential can help
Instead of worrying about whether you’re evicting a tenant properly, or having to go through the headache of figuring out the paperwork, let us help.
We’re a professional property management company in the Katy area with decades of experience helping landlords screen tenants, collect rent, and maintain their properties stress-free. Contact us today to find out how we can help you get relief.