As a landlord, it’s imperative that you understand North Carolina landlord-tenant laws, including understanding the Fair Housing Act in order to avoid potential discrimination lawsuits from your tenant. 

The Fair Housing Act is a federal law that prohibits housing discrimination based on certain protected classes. The act is the name given to Title 8 of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. 

Keep reading for some answers to commonly asked questions regarding the Fair Housing Act in the state of North Carolina. 

What Is the Fair Housing Act? 

The Fair Housing Act applies to all housing-related matters. It protects prospective homeowners and renters from discrimination through the rental, sale, or financing of their homes. 

The act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968. Its passage into law didn’t, however, come easy. It took policymakers several years of struggle to push it through Congress. The assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is considered the single biggest factor that led to congressional action. 

What Are the Protected Classes in North Carolina? 

Since North Carolina is yet to add extra protections, the only protected classes available are those at the federal level. They are as follows:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Nationality
  • Disability
  • Familial status

Black gavel on a desk

What Government Agency Handles Discrimination Complaints in North Carolina? 

Housing-related discrimination complaints are handled by the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings’ Civil Rights Division

What Are Examples of Discriminatory Practices in Renting? 

As a landlord, the following are examples of practices that you should avoid when renting out your property. 

  • Asking prospective tenants how many children they have. Familial status is a protected class under the Fair Housing Act. What you could ask the tenant instead is how many people will be living with them. 
  • Having different screening criteria for potential tenants. Requiring one tenant to submit their credit report and not requiring another one to do so would qualify as a discriminatory practice. 
  • Rejecting a rental application for any reason other than the potential applicant not meeting your qualifying criteria. Make sure your stated qualification criteria are clear, visible, and impartial. 
  • Failing to make a reasonable modification that a disabled tenant has requested. For instance, installing grab bars in the bathroom or assigning them a parking spot. 
  • Starting eviction proceedings against a hoarder. The Fair Housing Act categorizes hoarding as a disability. 
  • Lying about the availability of your unit just because a person is of a certain race, color, religion, or any other protected class. 
  • Including discriminatory statements in your rental ad. 

Single-family home with a red For Rent sign in front of it

What Are the Exemptions to the Fair Housing Act? 

There are some exemptions to the Fair Housing Act. They are as follows: 

  • Single-family homes. There are a few requirements that the landlord must meet, though. For one, you must not own more than three homes at any particular time. Two, you’re the one that is marketing it yourself and not using professional services. And three, the leasing process is non-discriminatory. 
  • A dwelling that has no more than four units, and the owner occupies one of the units. 
  • Dwellings for the elderly. The home must only be intended and operated for renting out to persons aged at least 55 years. 
  • Housing operated by private or religious organizations. 

What Parties Are Prohibited from Engaging in Housing Discrimination in North Carolina?  

Landlords aren’t the only party that is prohibited from engaging in discriminatory acts. Other parties include the following. 

  • Property owners and managers
  • Homeowner associations
  • Real estate agents
  • Developers
  • Insurance providers
  • Mortgage lenders and brokers

How Are Fair Housing Policies Enforced? 

At the federal level, enforcement of the Fair Housing Act is done by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It enforces the Fair Housing Act in two main ways. 

One way is by using fair housing testers. HUD employs people to act as potential renters to see whether a landlord employs discriminatory practices in their leasing processes. As a landlord, it’s imperative that you have discrimination-free policies and practices. 

Overhead view of two people shaking hands

The other way HUD enforces the act is by investigating discrimination claims. The HUD will investigate a claim and then conclude whether or not further legal action is necessary. In North Carolina, the North Carolina Human Relations Commission (HRC) deals with housing complaints. 

How Can Landlords Avoid Accusations of Discrimination? 

The following are a couple of tips that can help you avoid potential discrimination claims by your tenants. 

  • Having consistent policies. Have the same policies and enforce them equally among all tenants. If you require one tenant to pay a security deposit, for instance, then make sure all other tenants pay the same amount. 
  • Maintain professional interactions. Always have a professional demeanor when dealing with tenant issues. This will make sure that complaints have zero ground to stand on. 
  • Be careful what you ask prospective tenants. There are certain questions that you shouldn’t ask questions as they would be discriminatory. Examples of these questions are, how many children do you have? Where do you go to church? What country are you originally from? Are you disabled? 
  • Treat all tenants equally. Don’t make the potential mistake of getting too friendly with one tenant over others. Hard feelings can develop and a difficult tenant may try to find any and every available opportunity to accuse you of discrimination. 
  • Market your vacant property the right way. Don’t focus too much on describing the kind of tenant you want, as you may end up making a mistake. Avoid using phrases such as “Ideal for Males,” “Ideal for Single Professionals,” “No Children,” or “No Dogs Allowed.” 
  • Hire a property management company. A good property management company will have proper policies in place, whether when it comes to screening tenants, maintaining the property, or even when evicting a problem tenant. 

Person in a white sweatshirt walking their small white dog on a leash on a city sidewalk

Bottom Line

There you have it. A simple guide for landlords regarding the Fair Housing Act in North Carolina. For expert help, Keyrenter Raleigh can help. We’re a leading property management company in Raleigh, North Carolina. Get in touch to find out more about our services! 

Disclaimer: This blog should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state. Laws change, and this post might not be updated at the time of your reading. Please contact us for any questions you have in regards to this content or any other aspect of your property management needs.