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What are the fair housing laws in Utah?
The first question we have to ask is, what is fair housing? What is it all about? Well, very simply put, fair housing is the right to choose housing free from unlawful discrimination. Unlawful being underlined, because can you discriminate and should you discriminate against tenants that are moving into a property you own, having someone else live there? You bet you should be discriminating all day long, but not unlawfully, and so fair housing has been established to create the laws around discrimination and certain classes against which you cannot discriminate for any reason. As housing providers, what is prohibited? Refusing to rent or sell housing, refuse to negotiate for housing, make housing unavailable, deny a dwelling, set different terms, conditions or privileges for sale or rental of a dwelling, provide different housing services or facilities, falsely deny that housing is available for inspection, sale, or rental, other housing-related restrictions.
These are things that we cannot do against a protected class, okay, for that reason. What are the protected classes? We have seven federal protected classes, and then I’ll talk about state-specific. Number one, race. That is, whether someone is Black, White, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native Alaskan, Native American, or other bi or multiracial. Number two is color, what the person considers to be the color of their skin. Number three, national origin, what country the person is from. Number four is religion, a set of beliefs, creeds, tenets or practices that relate to what a person considers their religion or their church. We cannot discriminate against what someone believes. Number five, gender, sex, whether the person is male or female or male.
Number six is disability, a physical or mental disability, including mobility, hearing and visual impairments, cancer, chronic mental illness, AIDS, AIDS-related complex, mental retardation, a record of such disability, or be considered to have such a disability. With regard to disability, the Fair Housing Act states that a landlord may not refuse to allow to make reasonable modifications to your dwelling or common use area at their own expense. Meaning if someone who is disabled comes to you, the investor, the landlord, and says, “I need to have this wheelchair ramp put in here. It’s going to be at my expense,” so the landlord doesn’t have to pay for it, “and it’s not going to cause additional damage, and I’ll return it to its original condition when I move out,” if we were to say no, that’s a reasonable modification, and we could be potentially violating this law.
A landlord may not refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services if necessary for the disabled person to use the housing. For example, the “no pets” rule does not apply to service, assistance or companion animals. They’re animals at this point and not pets, and so if they’re service or companion, it’s not a pet, so a landlord may not charge fees or deposits for these animals and must allow them. Now, you as a landlord have the right to verify the handicap and the animal, that they coincide, that they correlate, and we can talk more about that if you choose. Number seven is familial status, persons under age 18 living with a parent, and some of these other categories that describe what a family would be considered. Okay?
Now, in Utah, source of income is now a protected class. This is mainly targeted towards federal and state financial assistance such as Section 8, as well as disability income. Wherever the income, as long as it’s a legal source, is coming from, we can’t say, “No, because you’re on this, because you’re on that, we can’t rent to you.” Now, granted, they still have to qualify. Right? They still need to qualify based on your other lawful discriminatory criteria. Okay? Sexual orientation, gender identification. Okay? This is one that was passed in recent years as well, and it’s just something that we have here in Utah, so to protect the LGBTQ community.
Now, what are possible penalties for fair housing violations? Let’s say you discriminate, and it’s proven in court, and it goes to mediation and goes to court. There are many situations where this can happen, so it’s important that we understand what they are so that we know how to advertise rentals, we know how to communicate, we show properties properly, because if we do it wrong and we blatantly violate, we’ve seen fines, $16,000 for a first violation and $65,000 for future violations. Now, that’s for civil penalties. In cases where Justice Departments have been involved, we’ve seen up to $100,000 in fines, as well as punitive damages awarded by federal courts, and so it’s not a laughing matter. It’s not something to take lightly. It’s something as an investor, as a landlord, especially if you’re self-managing, you should be aware of and recognize the importance of following fair housing guidelines.
I hope this has been helpful. If you have questions, thoughts, concerns, feel free to reach out to our team. We’re more than happy to help you out.