RICHARD VIERRA (B), RMP
Principal Broker & Director of Property Management
Hawaii Reserves, Inc.
National Association of Residential Property Managers
Regional Vice President / Past President, Oahu Chapter
Q. Is the Fair Housing Law a national codification that has to be observed in every state? Do the Federal Fair Housing laws and regulations cover the same issues as the state Landlord Tenant laws or overlap in any way, and would one override or take precedence over the other? I believe the focus of Fair Housing Law is discrimination and protected classes…is that correct?
A. There are three questions here to be answered. First, the federal Fair Housing Laws must be applied in every state.
Second, there are some overlaps in federal and state Fair Housing Laws as well as with state Landlord/Tenant laws. And third, the federal Fair Housing Law does focus on the protection of various classes of the public.
Typically, while each state has governance over specific procedures related to rental properties and landlord and tenant relations, the federal government has jurisdiction over broader issues.
Generally speaking, each state’s Landlord/Tenant Code addresses dollar amounts, rental periods, definitions, what-to-do-if situations, lease lengths, penalties, and other operational issues in the rental process. The federal Fair Housing Law, on the other hand, focuses on discrimination by the landlord in the tenant-selection process. Some of these areas are, among other things, a prospective tenant’s race, color, familial status, religion, gender, and age. Discrimination in any of these classes is expressly prohibited and can result in very severe penalties.
Most states have both federal and state Equal Rights Commission offices and it would be through their screening and investigative efforts that a prospective tenant would seek recourse if he or she felt that a landlord discriminated against them in the tenant-selection process. Whereas state laws do vary considerably based on needs, environment, trends, and economics, federal law is applied equally across the nation and applies to all landlords and tenants relative to the jurisdiction of the law.
Ultimately, the best way to protect yourself from litigation (both as a landlord and a tenant) is to become familiar with the state and federal laws which affect the landlord and tenant process, keep copious and accurate notes and documents, and, particularly for landlords, be fair across the board, treating all applicants equally.