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What to do...and NOT to do...when advertising your vacant unit

For property managers, marketing and advertising are essential components of a successful business. Finding and keeping high-quality tenants is at the heart of your job. However, advertising is more than just billboards and flyers; it’s also conversations, pictures, social media posts, and newspaper ads. Just about anything a property manager does to highlight a property can be considered advertising under the law.

Why does that matter? Because property management companies must follow the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) at all time, including during marketing campaigns. Violating the FHA could result in fines, reparations, and even jail time.

In this article, we’re going to talk about the FHA, how it relates to marketing and advertising regulations for property managers, and how you can make sure your company follows all necessary guidelines.

The Fair Housing Act

The federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 protects renters, homebuyers, and sellers from discrimination based on race, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. Some states have passed additional protections that prevent housing discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, age, national origin, and other qualifiers. Property managers and other housing representatives should be well-versed in their state’s specific protections.

Property management companies (as well as mortgage lenders, real estate agents, and others associated with home rentals or ownership) must follow these statutes or risk reprimand. Depending on the state and the severity of the infraction, violations can cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars and could even result in jail time.

The Fair Housing Act and Marketing

The FHA doesn’t just apply during the application process. Property managers must also consider FHA laws when advertising or marketing available properties. The law explicitly prohibits “discriminatory housing advertisements,” a phrase that is intentionally broad-stroked to cover a wide range of infractions.

Any type of advertising – whether in print or verbal – must follow the Fair Housing Act guidelines. That means social media posts done in an official capacity by a property manager, in-person meetings with potential tenants, the verbiage on applications for housing, and print advertising are all subject to the same laws.

While there are some exceptions for single-family homes not managed by a property manager, all multifamily units and mixed-use properties that include any type of housing on-site are subject to FHA marketing guidelines. As a property manager, you are responsible for following the law and keeping your advertising in line with the FHA.

Potential Marketing and Advertising Violations

Even seemingly innocent words, phrases, or images could be construed as discriminatory. For instance, the following situations violate the Fair Housing Act and could lead to serious legal trouble:

· Saying “no children” verbally or in print.

· “Perfect for families” might indicate discrimination against older people, single occupants, or a couple without children.

· Advertisements featuring photos of people who are all one gender, one age group, or one race.

· Requesting a “Christian tenant.”

· Any statement or image that either discriminates against or expresses a preference for specific groups.

Avoid Fair Housing Act Violations

These guidelines may seem generic and therefore impossible to avoid, but property managers can take steps to ensure compliance with federal and state laws. For instance, keep your property descriptions focused on the property, not the people who might live there. You might say, “ground-floor unit, large kitchen, hardwood floors” instead of “perfect space for retirees.” The latter indicates a preference towards an older demographic, which could be a violation of the FHA. Mention the easy access to the community pool and playgrounds rather than saying “great space for kids.” Use images that feature a diverse range of ethnicities, age groups, and abilities. Keep your advertising inclusive at all costs.

Language matters in property management. Not only could the wrong language offend potential tenants, but it could also be illegal.

At Designated Broker Solutions, we are familiar with both federal and state-specific Fair Housing Act laws. Property managers have a lot on their plates: processing applications, dealing with payments, processing work orders – it’s hard to keep up with it all. Adhering to FHA guidelines for marketing and advertising might not be high on your priority list, but failing to comply could be costly.

Designated Broker Solutions brokers are licensed in 27 states. We know the business, we know the laws, and we work with property managers to ensure compliance in all areas, including marketing. We take the guesswork out of property management.

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