You may think advertising is a simple issue. Just put together a few descriptive words and place an ad in a newspaper, on a bulletin board, or on the Internet. However, advertising becomes complicated when it leads to a case for discrimination! Fair Housing Laws set the guidelines on what is unacceptable in advertising. Property owners who do not know the law can find themselves with legal problems, large settlements, and/or serious penalties.
There are three basic types of advertising – verbal, paper, and electronic. Paper includes newspapers, magazines, flyers, notices on bulletin boards, and more. Paper advertising has decreased in recent years with the power of the Internet. Electronic advertising is far-reaching and less costly with email and websites. Verbal marketing can come from anyone who has knowledge and conveys that the property is available for rent.
The safest rule to follow in any advertising is to “describe the property, not the person.” If you follow this important rule, you will avoid terms such as “singles, family, exclusive, executive, near a church, great for joggers, etc.” Terms such as these imply you only wish to place a certain type or class of people in the property. Substitute words such as “attractive, large, jogging trail, pool, tennis court, bedrooms, bathrooms, many amenities, formal dining, dishwasher, central heat, & air.” These terms “describe the property.”
Here are examples of discriminatory advertising:
- Great for singles, 2 bed, 1 bath, pool & spa, $750.00
- Executive home, near a church, 3000 sq. ft., four bedrooms, three baths, three car garage, $1800
A better way to advertise these two properties would be:
- Attractive, large, 2 bed, 1 bath, pool & spa, $750
- Custom features, 3000 sq ft, 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, 3 car garage, formal dining, $1800
Verbal advertising – Beware
You may not think that talking with friends, co-workers, or family is advertising. However, when you relay information to any party, they may become your advertising medium if they discuss the property with other people. Here is an example of how discrimination can become a discrimination lawsuit with “verbal” advertising.
Marvin owned a two-bedroom property available for rent near his church. While attending a service at the church, Marvin discussed his rental with Betty, asking her to let people know his property was available and that he wanted to rent to a Caucasian married couple without children. Betty went home and later that day relayed this information to her neighbor. The neighbor, Joan, informed her son, James, who was looking for a rental, that Marvin’s property was available for rent. James and Mary, a black couple with one son, looked at the property and submitted an application to Marvin.
Marvin denied their application. He ignored that they had good income, excellent rental history, and great credit. He rented to a white couple without children, who had poor credit and weak income. James mother then relayed to James the full conversation with Betty. James and Mary sued Marvin. The judge awarded monetary damages to James and Mary based on discrimination after Betty testified to the original conversation.
When you stop to analyze advertising, what is important to prospective tenants is the wording that describes the property. People searching the paper are looking for the number of bedrooms and baths, the amenities, type of parking, area, and of course, the rental price. The prospective tenant will decide if the area is what they want. Property owners should be looking at whether the prospective tenants are able to afford the property and will maintain it, rather than picking a “type” of person.
As your property management company, Pyramis knows the Fair Housing laws that affect advertising. We will “describe the property” to attract and place a well-qualified tenant in your investment.