6,000Units Under Management
Less Than 1% Eviction Rate
Avg. Time Rental Is on Market 23 Days

How to Avoid Housing Discrimination as a Landlord

It is always a landlord’s goal to find the “perfect tenant” to occupy their rental home. While performing thorough screenings of potential tenants that include background and credit checks, employment and income verifications, and even communication with previous landlords, income property owners must be careful that they avoid housing discrimination when it comes to placing tenants in their rental properties.

Contents of This Article:

What Is Housing Discrimination?

Housing discrimination is when landlords start categorizing potential tenants based on who they are rather than on the criteria of a legally compliant screening process. That said, all landlords and property managers must avoid housing discrimination by screening each applicant fairly and transparently. 

Today, we will discuss the most important federal and state laws applying to housing discrimination so that you can be sure you or your Northern Virginia property management group are not unintentionally discriminating against a protected class of people.

The Fair Housing Act

The federal Fair Housing Act is contained in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. The purpose of the Act is to prohibit housing discrimination against any person falling under one of the seven groups of “protected classes.”


These seven groups include anyone who is unfairly treated when it comes to renting a home based on the following:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • National Origin
  • Sex
  • Familial Status
  • Disability

That said, in Virginia, they’ve taken it a step further with additional protected classes, including the following:

  • Elderliness
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Source of Funds
  • Gender Identity
  • Military Status

Avoid Violating the Fair Housing Act

When you own rental properties in large cities, chances are you will interact with people of all kinds, even those who are part of the “protected classes.” This is why being aware of certain prohibited actions is so important. For instance, when leasing your property, under no circumstances can you take any of the following actions based on the protected categories of people:

  • Make the rental home unavailable or falsely deny the home is available for rent
  • Deny a lease agreement
  • Set different terms, conditions, or privileges for leasing a property
  • Provide different housing services or facilities
  • Deny access to a membership or service related to the rental of the home

One of the most important yet often overlooked categories of protected classes offered protection under the law is families with children. Landlords are forbidden from advertising their rental property as “adults only” or “no children allowed,” restricting the number of children occupying a given space, or encouraging families with children to occupy specific homes or building spaces to isolate them.

Additional LGBTQ+ Protections

In addition to any federal protection for LGBTQ+ persons, many states, including Virginia, have taken an extra step in protecting this category of people based on their “sexual orientation.”


The definition of sexual orientation is:

“The identification of an individual as to male or female homosexuality, heterosexuality, or bisexuality. Gender identity is defined to mean the gender-related identity, appearance, expression, or behavior of a person, regardless of the person’s assigned sex at birth.”

The Justice Department firmly states that in any case involving discrimination based on “sex” (a protected class), the term can and will be construed to include gender discrimination, including discrimination against transgender individuals. In addition, HUD’s own Secretary has publicly stated that gender identity discrimination is a direct violation of the Fair Housing Act.

Equal Credit Opportunity Act

Enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) is dedicated to preventing credit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, whether a person receives public assistance, or whether the applicant has acted on one of their rights under the federal credit laws. Though you may ask for all of this information on a credit application to rent your home, you cannot use it to determine whether a potential tenant is a good fit.

One of the most important criteria when deciding whether or not to approve a tenant is their income. However, there are some things you may not do while evaluating your potential tenant’s credit according to the ECOA:

  • Refuse to consider reliable public assistance income the same as other income. This may be especially apparent in places where the median income levels are significantly lower than the state’s average despite the high cost of living.
  • Discount income due to marital status or sex. For instance, assuming a woman of childbearing age will stop working and have a lower income in the future is not allowed.
  • Refuse to consider income because it comes from part-time employment, Social Security, pensions, or annuities. In places where many students attend university and may only have part-time jobs, take care not to deny a lease based solely on that fact.
  • Refuse to consider reliable alimony or child support, though you may ask for proof of that steady income.

Americans With Disabilities Act

Under both the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the federal government enforces anti-discrimination policies for those with disabilities. Disabilities can be categorized as mental and physical conditions. That said, they do not need to be severe or permanent to be considered disabilities. Some of the most common disabilities include:


  • Deafness
  • Blindness
  • Intellectual disability
  • Partially or completely missing limbs
  • Use of a wheelchair
  • Cancer
  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Schizophrenia

The law protects those who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of a person’s “major life activities.” This also includes those with a record of having an impairment and even those intending to reside with a person who has such an impairment. It does, however, exclude those who are illegally using or addicted to drugs or other controlled substances.

As a landlord screening potential tenants, you may not:

  • Ask a person with a disability questions differing from those of any other potential tenant.
  • Inquire about the nature or severity of a person’s disability.
  • Ask a person if they are capable of living alone.
  • Refuse to make reasonable changes in rules or policies that may be necessary for a person with a disability the equal opportunity to enjoy and use a rental home. For instance, you may lift the “no pet” policy for someone needing a service dog.
  • Refuse the tenant of the right to make reasonable modifications to the home to enjoy and use the home properly. For instance, installing a wheelchair ramp or grab bars in the bathrooms.

Find Qualified Tenants With BMG

In the end, it’s best to avoid housing discrimination by treating all applicants fairly and equally. Regardless of where your rental is located, you will likely meet all kinds of different people in your quest to fill your vacant rental home. That’s why sometimes it is best to employ your favorite local property management company. That way, they can take on the task of managing your rental homes to avoid serious matters such as discrimination.

Need More Advice? contact us today!

With knowledgeable staff on hand who are always up to date with the most current landlord-tenant housing laws, you will have the peace of mind that none of your potential tenants will experience the harsh reality of discrimination. Instead, everyone will enjoy an equal opportunity to rent their home, knowing that they aren’t screened because of who they are as people.