Last month, the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) announced it charged two landlords in Texas with racial discrimination under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA). In the charge, HUD alleged that the landlords declined to rent a room to a potential resident because she is African American.

Specifically, HUD’s complaint states that the landlords posted an online advertisement for a room in a five bedroom house. The landlords required applicants to list their race and submit a photograph when applying. When this prospective resident responded to the vacancy ad, the landlords again said that the woman needed to provide a photograph. The renter refused. At that point, one of the landlords nevertheless agreed to meet the prospective resident at the house. HUD claims that when the landlord saw the woman was African American, he refused to show her the room and said that her race would make his wife and the other residents uncomfortable.

While a HUD charge does not prove the facts are as asserted, these claims are a textbook of what management must not do when evaluating an applicant.  And ensure race is not a question on your application. (Yes, I know that for affordable properties, HUD requests applicants self-select their race/national origin for government monitoring purposes.  But for a conventional property, don’t seek information on the race of your residents.)

Now, this complaint does bring up a related issue: should management obtain photos of applicants? Here is some general guidance on pictures. Management must have a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason to collect pictures of potential residents. Provided you do it for all, one such legitimate safety/security reason (the protection of your leasing consultant while giving a tour) would be to make a copy of a driver’s license when showing an apartment home. But you must make a copy of all licenses for your applicants and not just some licenses. Trust that makes sense. Or you will really need to speak with a lawyer like me.

Just A Thought.