The last thing that you want to do as a landlord is discriminate against anybody. Aside from the moral reasons for treating people equally and fairly, a discrimination lawsuit would also be bad for your bottom line, especially if it gets a lot of publicity. In many cases, violations of the Fair Housing Act occur not because the property owner wants to discriminate, but because the property owner isn't familiar enough with what might constitute discrimination. Take a look at some surprising mistakes that can result in Fair Housing Act violations.

Treating a Service Animal Like a Pet

If you're not familiar with the role of a service animal, it's easy to think of them just like any other household pet. But a service animal isn't a pet at all—it's an animal with a job. Service animals are specially trained to help people who have disabilities navigate barriers and limitations. They're more analogous to a live-in caregiver than to an ordinary house pet.

Because service animals are an accommodation for a person with disabilities, they're not subject to the usual pet restrictions. In other words, you can't refuse to rent to a tenant because they have a service animal, even if you don't normally allow pets. You also can't charge a pet deposit for a service animal, restrict them based on breed, or ban them from common areas. The good news is that service animals are highly trained and less likely to cause some of the problems that make pets a headache for landlords.

Evicting a Hoarder

Walking into the property you own and seeing stacks of junk and piles of clutter can definitely be a wrenching experience. However, if you discover that one of your tenants is a hoarder, you can't just kick them out based on that alone. Hoarding is considered a mental health disorder, and renters with mental health disorders are protected by the Fair Housing Act.

You can evict if the hoarder is damaging property, blocking exits, or storing dangerous items. But proceed with caution. It's usually best not to jump straight to eviction if you suspect you're dealing with a hoarding situation. First, document the situation with both photos or videos and written notes. Give the tenant notice and time to remedy the situation. Offer to send in professional cleaning services and refer the tenant to mental health services in your area. If the hoarding continues, consult a lawyer about the best way to proceed.

Not Knowing About Additional Protected Classes

One easily avoidable mistake is simply not realizing that you're dealing with a protected class. The Fair Housing Act, which is a federal law, lists seven protected classes: race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, and mental or physical disability. However, states and local governments are free to add additional protected classes, such as sexual orientation or age.

It's simple to avoid making this mistake. Before you begin renting to anyone, research not just the federal housing laws, but the state and local housing laws as well. That way, you'll know exactly what the rules are.

Not everyone is cut out to be a landlord, and interpreting and applying housing law is one area that can be complicated. If you're concerned about your ability to keep up with the nuances of the legal aspect of renting property, a property management company could be your best bet. A good property management company can handle selecting tenants, collecting rent, and evictions when necessary, while navigating the federal, state, and local laws.