You have the right to choose the best tenant for your unit. You can select tenants using the following criteria as long as you apply the criteria equally to all applicants:
- Credit check (if a tenant has a rental subsidy a credit check may not be as important a criterion)
- References from previous landlords
- Sufficient funds to cover the cost of rent
- Criminal record check
Best Practices to Prevent Discrimination Problems
- Be Consistent: Develop and use a standard process with all applicants. Provide accurate and complete information about available units to all people who inquire.
- Avoid Assumptions: Assess each individual applicant based on the requirements you have developed and not based on their race, national origin, family status, source of income, disability, age, etc.
- Document Your Search: Keep your selection criteria and rental policy in writing and make sure to document your reason for refusing an applicant.
- Don’t Be Helpful at Your Own Expense: Although you may mean well, don’t tell a prospective tenant that it would be safer for her children to live on the first floor or ask a disabled person if they can manage the stairs. Allow each person to decide for him or herself where they want to live.
- Fair Housing is Ongoing: Practicing fair housing does not end when you find a tenant. Make sure all rental policies and services are applied equally to all tenants. Participate in a fair housing training to ensure that you stay up to date on your fair housing responsibilities.
The Lead Law
Massachusetts law requires property owners to de-lead a unit when children under the age of six live in it. This law, in conjunction with fair housing laws, makes it illegal for a property owner or real estate agent to refuse to rent to (or to evict) a family with children because of the presence of lead paint. It is the landlord’s obligation to de-lead their rental properties.
There are funds available to help owners de-lead. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program will refer you to your local city/town resource. For more information call (617) 624-5757 or (800) 532-9571 or go online at www.mass.gov\dph. For information on the City of Newton’s hazard abatement program call the Newton Housing Rehabilitation Fund at 617-796-1150.
What are the consequences of discrimination?
If a state or federal court or anti-discrimination agency finds that unlawful discrimination has taken place, a tenant may be awarded damages, including the following:
- Actual Damages - Out-of-pocket costs that the tenant had to pay as a result of the discrimination. This can also include compensation for non-economic injuries like emotional distress and humiliation.
- Civil Penalties - These range from $16,000 for the first violation, to higher amounts up to $65,000 for subsequent violations. If the U.S. Department of Justice sues, the civil penalty can reach $110,000.
- Punitive Damages - These awards have no limit and have sometimes been in the millions.
- Affirmative Relief - This is an order prohibiting a specific act, or requiring a change in action in the future. For example, the landlord may be required to advertise in publications that people of color read.
- Attorney’s Fees - Fair housing laws allow the injured party to receive reasonable attorney fees from the party violating his or her rights.