The Fair Housing Act (FHA) in Virginia aims to protect homebuyers, home sellers, lenders, borrowers, landlords, and renters against discrimination. This federal law applies to all individuals and entities involved in housing, including owners, landlords, property managers, agents, banks, credit unions, mortgage lenders, insurance companies, appraisers, and other housing providers.
As a Virginia residential landlord, it’s important to know and understand the FHA to avoid committing any act of discrimination. Being a member of a protected class, however, never exempts a renter from the consequences of illegally breaking their lease or being evicted for non-discriminative reasons.
Why Was the Act Created?
The purpose of creating the FHA is to help limit discriminatory housing practices, including renting and purchasing. This law was established so that every American could have an equal opportunity to find a place to live without being discriminated against due to various reasons that they cannot control.
Protections Under the Virginia Fair Housing Regulations
The FHA is a law that establishes regulations that prohibits discrimination in housing. As a general rule, the following classes are categorized as under protection:
- People with disability
- People of color
- National origin
- Familial status (having minor children, being pregnant)
Landlords must exercise caution when renting out their property and should not reject applications belonging to any of the classes mentioned above. As a landlord, you are required to treat every applicant and renter equally. For example, the approval of prospective tenants’ rental applications should not be based on the race they belong to.
Property owners should not use personal prejudices and accept or reject tenants based on their own discriminatory standards. Doing so is a violation of the FHA, and you will be penalized for that. There should also not be any discriminatory language used in the lease.
The FHA was created so rental property owners would practice fairness and non-prejudice in welcoming all prospective tenants and giving them equal opportunities to seek housing. If you need to reject an applicant, it should be based on valid reasons, like they’re unable to meet the financial requirements or pass the background check.
Other valid reasons for rejecting an applicant include having a low or poor credit score or being involved in an eviction case.
It’s important to have a clear and consistent tenant screening process that adheres to the FHA. This will help protect you from making unintentional violations and getting charged with penalties.
Protected Classes in Virginia
Different states have their own version of the Fair Housing Law. Some states add more protected classes. The Virginia Fair Housing Law prohibits discrimination in residential housing on the basis of the classes mentioned above, as well as the following additional classes:
- Source of funds
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity
- Military status
If you’re a landlord in Virginia, it’s crucial that you understand how this law works so you will not be faced with discriminatory charges. As a landlord, you are not allowed to apply a particular rule or standard to one class of individuals while applying a different rule or standard to another class.
For instance, the law prohibits a landlord from requiring a tenant-applicant of a specific religion to submit a credit report if applicants of different religions are not required to provide one.
What Do These Protected Classes Mean?
It’s illegal for a landlord to reject a rental application because the applicant is of a certain race or ethnicity.
It is also prohibited to deny a housing opportunity based on a person’s complexion or skin color
A landlord are not allowed to refuse applicants specifically because they belong to a religious group
It’s prohibited to deny someone a housing opportunity because of their national origin, for example, due to immigration status
In Virginia, it is illegal to refuse lodging to a member of a certain sex. An exemption to this rule is if you’re renting shared living spaces.
Familial status means having minor children (under age 18). This means that a landlord may not refuse to rent to families with children, including pregnant women. If your place is a senior or retirement facility for individuals over age 55 or 62, you may legally refuse to rent to families with children.
Denying prospective tenants with disabilities is also a violation of the Virginia Fair Housing Law. You cannot charge a disabled tenant extra rent or a larger security deposit, even if changes need to be made to the unit.
Age should also not be a basis for approving or rejecting a tenant, as long as they are legal adults who have the financial capability to pay the rent. Elderliness, which refers to any person who is 55 years or older, is a protected class under Virginia’s Fair Housing Laws.
It means that a landlord is prohibited from rejecting an applicant just because they are 55 years of age or older.
A person’s actual or perceived sexuality should not be a basis for them getting approval for rent. If a landlord rejects an applicant based on sexual orientation, they are violating the Fair Housing Laws in Virginia.
A landlord is also prohibited from discriminating against applicants based on gender identity. This refers to the gender-related appearance, identity, or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, no matter their sex.
Source of Funds
Any housing provider should not reject a tenant or buyer based on the source of funds. Any legal source, including any assistance, benefit, or subsidy program, should be accommodated.
In Virginia, a member of the uniformed forces or reserves, a veteran, or a dependent as defined under the law should have equal rights to housing opportunities.
Non-Protected Classes Under the Act
There are several groups that are not protected under the state or federal Fair Housing law. Examples of non-protected classes in Virginia are students, smokers, and unmarried couples. However, some of these classes may be protected under a local ordinance.
This is why to avoid getting into trouble, it’s important for a landlord to determine if local ordinances protect certain classes that are not part of the federal or state Fair Housing law’s protected classes.
If you need help with the FHA in Virginia, it’s best to work with a professional property management company. Contact Keyrenter Hampton Roads at (757) 346-4000 to learn about our property management services.
Disclaimer: This blog isn’t meant to be a substitute for professional legal advice. Also, laws and regulations change and this content may not be up to date at the time you read it. For expert legal advice, kindly get in touch with Keyrenter Hampton Roads. We can help you take the stress out of managing your rental property, including helping you handle your legal obligations.