Did a prospective, current or former tenant file a housing discrimination claim against you or your company? If you have received a discrimination complaint, you must take it seriously. After all, you may have to pay a hefty fine if a violation is found.

However, what can you do now to help prevent a claim from arising in the first place? Here are three steps landlords can take to help prevent housing discrimination claims:

Know how to identify protected classes

Most landlords have an obligation not to discriminate against renters. For a valid housing discrimination claim, though, individuals usually must be members of a protected class. The Fair Housing Act, for example, forbids discrimination based on any of the following:

  • Race, color or national origin
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Family status
  • Disability

Recognizing these protected classes is the first step in avoiding a housing discrimination claim. Put simply, do not base any of your decisions as a landlord on these characteristics. You must also provide proper training for your staff regarding housing protections. If they violate the rules, the liability lands on you.  State law may provide additional protected classes in addition to those under federal law.

Document your actions and rental decisions

While you cannot take adverse housing action because of a person’s protected characteristics, you do not have to rent to everyone. On the contrary, many rental rejections are perfectly valid. Here are some reasons that may be acceptable:

  • Prior evictions
  • Bad credit
  • Poor references
  • Animal ownership

To protect yourself, always document your reasons for denying housing to an individual, family or business. Your detailed records may provide you with evidence should someone file an action against you. If you are unsure, consult with an attorney.

Limit your contact with the complainant if a claim is filed

If, despite your best efforts, you have received a discrimination complaint, it is important to stop talking to the complainant. It is better to say nothing at all than to have your words used against you. Instead, contact legal counsel for assistance if a claim was filed. Better yet, learn how you can help prevent potential discrimination actions in the first place.

Housing discrimination claims have the potential to be quite serious. Therefore, you should never ignore a complaint, even if it seems frivolous. You also should not panic. Remember, with a bit of effort, you may be able to minimize your legal exposure.