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Real Estate

Rent It Right

Landlord may face bias complaint

February 22, 2009|Janet Portman | Inman News

Question: I recently turned down an interracial couple who applied for an apartment here. They were referred to our community by a current resident. I rejected them because of their poor credit score. Now their friend is accusing us of discrimination, though I haven't heard from the applicants themselves. Does the friend have any right to complain? After all, he isn't accusing us of discriminating against him.

Answer: Although few landlords realize it, neighbors and other members of the community may bring discrimination complaints against owners even when those neighbors were not the targets of the alleged discrimination. Under the federal fair housing laws, if someone can prove that he has suffered a "distinct and palpable injury" as a result of discrimination aimed at someone else, he can file a claim. The injury can be as simple as being deprived of the social advantages of living in a housing community that is free of illegal discrimination. People bringing such a claim need not be a member of the same "protected class" as the person discriminated against.

If your tenant pursues his claim, you may find yourself answering a phone call from the local office of the Housing and Urban Development Department (or your state's fair housing equivalent). You should be on solid ground if you've documented your reasons for the rejection and can point to preestablished and reasonable screening criteria that sank the chances for this couple -- and that you apply to all applicants, regardless of race. But if the same credit score appears on applications for applicants you've accepted, and if you have no other solid business reason to justify your decision, you may be in for trouble.

-- Janet Portman, Inman News

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janet@inman.com

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