Oklahoma Fair Housing Act: An Overview

The Fair Housing Act states that you have a responsibility to treat your tenants equally and fairly. It was enacted by Congress in 1968 with the sole goal of stamping out discrimination on all housing-related matters.

The Fair Housing Act covers any actions that could be deemed as housing discrimination such as:

  • Delaying or failing to perform needed or requested repairs.
  • Having a discriminatory tenant screening process.
  • Imposing different terms and conditions when it comes to different tenants.

That being said, these actions can only be seen as discriminatory if the tenants or tenants are a part of a protected class. Examples of protected classes include differences in national origin, race, familial status (like single, unmarried mothers), or sexual orientation. If the federal government finds that a tenant of a protected class lives in housing operated by a discriminatory landlord, the landlord could be brought to court and even be prevented from renting out their property.

Civil rights enforcement causes an investigation to be conducted on a landlord if the tenant files a housing discrimination complaint form. Different housing services have different ways of handling such complaints, but property values can decrease if a complaint is files. Housing operated by a discriminatory landlord are not ones that tenants eagerly seek or rent out.

Sometimes, the complaint is due to a simple miscommunication or misinterpretation. For exmaple, advertising that your single family housing sold to a single family tenant is not dicriminatory, but refusing to rent the unit to a single family due to sexual orientation or familial status is. These are things that some landlords are unclear of.

Here, we'll outline the basics of the Fair Housing Act so that you can avoid involuntarily-discriminative criteria or questions when looking for a tenant for your rental property.

What Led to the Creation of the Fair Housing Act?

Attempts at trying to enact anti-discrimination legislation began as early as the mid-1800s. However, it wasn’t until the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s that any real change was made.

The first two attempts to addressing discrimination were through the Rumford Fair Housing Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, it wasn’t until 1968 that the real groundbreaking legislation was made.

The Fair Housing Act was designed to eliminate all common forms of discrimination when it comes not only to the renting of a unit but also when it comes to lending and sale of homes. Most housing abides by the Fair Housing Act, but make sure to check your ads for some lesser-known discriminatory statements, even if you meant no harm by them.

Protected Classes Under the Fair Housing Act

The Oklahoma Fair Housing Act covers protection from discrimination based on the following characteristics:

  • Color
  • Disability
  • Familial Status
  • National Origin
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Sex

the fair housing act prohibits discrimination based on protected classes

Does the Fair Housing Act Make any Exceptions?

In some instances, the following groups may become exempt from the Fair Housing Act:

  • Single-family housing sold or rented without using brokerage services.
  • Owner-occupied buildings having a maximum of 4 units. Owner-occupied buildings and owner-occupied housing is prone to have different rules and regulations as other types of housing, so check your local law regarding it.
  • Members-only private clubs or organizations. Often, private clubs also have different regulations, so stay updated on your regional law regarding them.

How can Landlords Avoid Being Accused of Discrimination?

At the very least, Oklahoma Fair Housing Act requires landlords to treat all their tenants respectfully and fairly. This is especially true when it comes to marketing and screening tenants.

Of course, the last thing you want on your record is being found guilty of discrimination. Besides getting charged a hefty fine, violating Fair Housing laws could also negatively impact your career as a landlord and lower the value of your property.

The following are some things you may want to avoid at all costs:

Including Discriminatory Statements in Your Ad Copy

Rental vacancies come with the territory when you own and run a rental property business. Your tenant can choose to move out for a variety of reasons. Most housing changes are due to the tenant looking to:

  • Upsize or downsize
  • Move-in with a spouse
  • Move out due to a separation
  • Move into the new house they bought
  • Serve in the military

Regardless of the reason, though, you’ll have a responsibility to ensure that the rental property is occupied by a new tenant.

the federal fair housing act

Now, the first step to re-renting a unit begins with writing a rental ad and perhaps even put it on a multiple listing service. It’s during this process that you should be extra careful with the statements you include.

You’ll want to avoid discriminatory statements such as:

  • “Suitable for single professional.”
  • “Ideal for a Christian couple.”
  • “Great for working folks or students.”
  • “Adult-only building.”

To avoid making such statements inadvertently, stick to providing details about your property rather than describing the tenant you want.

Asking Discriminatory Questions

As an Oklahoma landlord, you know how important screening tenants is when qualifying prospects. That said, you must have a good tenant screening process, devoid of any discriminatory questions.

The following are some tenant screening questions you’ll want to avoid:

  • Are you divorced?
  • Are you married?
  • How many children do you have?
  • Where are your parents originally from?
  • Do you go to church?

Even if you mean no harm when asking these kinds of questions, they are still discriminatory. For example, asking where a tenant's parents are originally from could be seen as being discriminatory on the basis of national origin. If you follow this kind of line of questioning, you may have to answer to the Oklahoma Office of the Attorney General as they are the state agency tasked with enforcing the act in Oklahoma.

Refusing to Rent to or Accommodate Disabled Tenants

Disability is one of the 7 protected classes in Oklahoma. As a landlord, you must ensure that you accommodate a person with a disability.

legal aid fair housing

For instance, even if you have a “no pets” policy in your lease agreement, it’d be unlawful for you to deny housing to a disabled tenant. Service animals are not categorized as pets therefore you must allow them in your rental.

An example of a reasonable accommodation is if you provide parking as an amenity, you may want to provide your tenant with a close-in, spacious parking spot for a tenant using a wheelchair.

In addition, you have a responsibility to make reasonable modifications to the unit to ensure the tenant finds it comfortable. It should be noted that those changes will be at your own expense.

The tenant may also have a right to make some modifications to their units, such as:

  • Installing a ramp to allow wheelchair access to a raised living room.
  • Modifying kitchen appliances to accommodate poor vision or blindness.
  • Installing special faucets or door handles due to limited hand use.
  • Lowering countertops for easier access from a wheelchair.

Summary

There you have it. Everything you need to know when it comes to the Oklahoma Fair Housing Act. Always ensure that you are treating all current and prospective tenants equally, fairly, and with respect.

If you would like help keeping track of laws such as landlord-tenant laws, security deposit laws or would like to speak to someone about managing your rentals contact the experts at Draper Realty today!

Disclaimer: This post is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for legal advice. To learn more, please get in touch with an experienced property management company or a licensed attorney.

Previous Post