Tennessee Fair Housing Act: An Overview

Posted by Justin Cory on Tuesday, June 29th, 2021 at 12:53pm.

Tennessee Fair Housing Act Cory Real Estate Services

Whether impliedly or expressly stated in your lease agreement, tenants in Tennessee have a right to fair treatment. Congress enacted the Fair Housing Act with one goal in mind: to outline for landlords, buyers, lenders, and renters the housing-related practices that are unfair and discriminatory.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is responsible for enforcing fair housing laws. According to the HUD, actions that can be considered discriminatory in regards to housing can take many shapes and forms.

Some examples of housing discrimination include failing or delaying to perform your maintenance responsibilities, imposing different rules for different renters, and limiting privileges, facilities, or services of a dwelling based on that occupant’s protected characteristics.

The following article will go over details of the Fair Housing Act that every Tennessee landlord should know. If you have more questions regarding Tennessee fair housing laws, consider contacting the professionals at Cory Real Estate Services and Property Management today!

What is the Fair Housing Act?

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) was enacted by Congress to end widespread housing discrimination. The act recognizes the basic principle that every American citizen has a right to be treated equally and fairly without fear of discrimination based on factors beyond their control.

When was the Fair Housing Act created?

Attempts to stamp out housing discrimination have been around since the 19th century. However, it wasn’t until the 1960s that any serious change took place. The first two attempts to address discrimination were the Rumford Fair Housing Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But the real groundbreaking legislation was the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The law was a follow-up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and made crucial updates to the Civil Rights Act of 1866.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act into law on April 11, 1968. This happened just a week after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tennessee landlord tenant laws

Who is protected under the Fair Housing Act? 

The Fair Housing Act states that discriminating against people based on specific characteristics is illegal. The following characteristics are protected on a federal level:

  • Color
  • Disability
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Familial status
  • Disability

Some states have also passed legislation to add even more protected characteristics. According to the Tennessee Human Rights Act (THRA), additional protected characteristics under Tennessee fair housing laws include creed and age.

Does the Fair Housing Act Exempt Anyone?

Yes, in certain cases. It may make exemptions to:

  • Members-only organizations or private clubs
  • Owner-occupied homes having more than 4 units
  • Single-family homes that are sold or rented using a broker

What is Prohibited Under the FHA?

The Fair Housing Act covers most types of housing and aims at preventing discrimination in housing against protected characteristics. Discriminating against protected characteristics may result in legal consequences from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Specifically, the Fair Housing Act protects against discriminatory acts in the following parts of the housing process:

1. Mortgage Lending

It is illegal to perform these actions on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability when mortgage lending:

  • Refusing an applicant's purchase or their application for a mortgage loan
  • Refusing to make important information regarding a loan available to an applicant
  • Setting different requirements for loan purchasing
  • Setting different terms and conditions, such as fees or interest rates depending on who is making the application
  • Carrying out property appraisal discriminatorily

2. Home Renting & Selling

It is illegal to perform these actions on the basis of race, color, national origin, familial status, disability, or sex when renting or selling a home: 

  • Refusing to sell, rent, or negotiate for housing depending on the applicant’s characteristics
  • Lying about housing availability or making it unavailable altogether
  • Out rightly denying housing to interested renters
  • Setting different terms or conditions for buyers or tenants, like security deposit amount
  • Providing renters with different amenities or accommodations

Fair housing laws in Tennessee

Discriminatory Advertising

It’s illegal to make, print, or publish a rental ad that indicates a preference to people of certain characteristics, according to Section 3604 (c) of the Fair Housing Act. This not only applies to magazines, newspapers, television, and radio, but also to sales firms, advertising agencies, and management companies.

When advertising your property, focus on describing what your property offers and not the qualities of a prospective tenant.

The following are terms you shouldn’t say in a rental listing.

  • “An Asian Family Home” or “an African American neighborhood.” Under no circumstances should you discuss race on a rental listing.
  • “A Christian home” or “Jewish Neighborhood.” Religion is a protected characteristic.
  • “No Wheelchairs”. Regardless of whether or not your property is accessible to disabled renters, you aren’t allowed to explicitly state it in your listing.
  • “Ideal for Female Renters.” Avoid any wording that addresses sex in your rental listing.
  • “Perfect Neighborhood for Singles” or “Family-Friendly.” Fair Housing Laws don’t permit a preference for (or against) families, which many landlords don’t realize when listing their properties.

Discriminatory Tenant Screening

As a Tennessee landlord who must adhere to Tennessee fair housing laws, when screening potential tenants, you may not ask questions that pertain to the protected characteristics under the Fair Housing Act. Doing so can land you in serious legal trouble with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

You may not ask questions such as:

Where were you born?

Nationality is a protected characteristic, and therefore against the provisions of the Fair Housing Act.

Have you ever been arrested?

This is a no-no when it comes to Fair Housing rules. What you can, however, ask a prospective tenant is whether they have ever been convicted of a crime.

What is your sexual orientation?

This is a gross violation of the FHA. It’d be illegal for you to qualify a tenant based on their sexual orientation.

Do you have any disabilities? Is that a service dog?

No matter how good your intentions may be, asking such questions is against the spirit of the act.

Fair Housing Act Tennessee

How many kids do you have?

This is another problem area: anything related to children is off-limits.

Which religion do you belong to?

As innocent as this question may appear to be, it’s a direct violation of the Tennessee Fair Housing Act. A prospective tenant may take it to mean that you favor one religion over the other.

In addition, have a consistent screening process and qualify each tenant the same way. In other words, require the same fees, referrals, and documents. You’ll also want to treat each applicant with dignity and respect in order to legally comply with Tennessee fair housing laws.

Disclaimer: This information isn’t meant to be a substitute for expert legal advice. Also, laws change, and this information might not be up-to-date at the time you read it. For expert help, kindly consider hiring an expert attorney or an experienced property management company.

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