Some smaller apartment management companies use online services (such as Craigslist) to efficiently (and inexpensively) run ads for their rental apartment units. Which is just fine. However, if you use an online service to promote your vacancy or community, please don’t take short cuts and avoid complying with the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Many Craigslist ads, which are typically short, can be read in such a way as to infer that management is not following the law. To illustrate, phrases such as “perfect for a single” or “has stairs” or “ideal for a student” or “on a busy street” – which may well all be true and which may have absolutely no overt discriminatory intent, can be read as discouraging families with children from applying. Familial status, of course, was added to the FHA back in 1988. And saying that “I did not know the law,” will not make for an effective defense.
Don’t think your electronic ad will be seen by a fair housing tester? Think again. Fair housing testers hire people to view online ads and then pose as applicants in an effort to catch management violating the law. This is what happened to a real estate firm in Massachusetts who just recently settled a familial status housing discrimination claim concerning online ads. The firm ended up paying $17,000 to resolve the claims as well as agreeing to various fair housing training and implementing anti-discrimination policies.
Similarly, I do not recommend a line that says your property is “just down the street from the local Catholic church.” Again, a statement that could well be accurate and could appear neutral. But a fair housing tester will assert that such a statement discourages members of other faiths from seeking your rental unit because you are promoting one religion over another. And religion is a protected class in the FHA. Think I am making this up? I was involved in a situation years ago in which an apartment owner wanted to run a promotion in a church flyer offering rental discounts to members of the congregation. I had to advise it was not a good idea, because such a promotion could be viewed as supporting one religion to the detriment of members of different faiths.
As the recent case from Massachusetts demonstrates, advertising compliance remains an issue we all must work to get right. Or you might need to see a lawyer like me.
Just A Thought.