Property Management Blog

Virginia Fair Housing Act: An Overview

System - Monday, November 21, 2022
Property Management Blog

Are you renting out a property in Virginia? Understanding the housing laws in the state is vital!

Owning a rental property can be very lucrative. That said, being a landlord is a huge undertaking. And among the numerous responsibilities you’ll have, landlords also have to know and comply with the Fair Housing Act. 

As a savvy landlord, it’s important that you stay legally compliant with both local and federal landlord-tenant laws before you rent out your Virginia property. Engaging in housing discrimination practices could make you liable to hefty legal fines. In addition to this, you may also be liable for paying your tenant’s court and attorney fees. 

If you want to remain legally compliant, here is an overview of the state's Fair Housing Act!

What are Fair Housing Laws? 

These are laws that are meant to shield tenants, home buyers, and mortgage applicants from housing-related discrimination practices. The Fair Housing Act guarantees a person’s right to obtain housing regardless of 7 protected classes. They are as follows:

  • Race: As a landlord, you cannot deny housing or show preference to an applicant because of their race. 
  • Color: You must treat all rental applicants equally regardless of the color of their skin.
  • Religion: It would be illegal to deny someone a housing opportunity on the basis of the faith they profess. 
  • Nationality: Your policies and practices as a landlord should be non-discriminatory regardless of a person's national origin. 

two parents helping their child learn how to ride their bike on a sunny street

  • Familial Status: You must not deny an applicant the opportunity to rent your home solely on the basis of how many children (under 18 years) they have. Check local occupancy rules to know the maximum number of people that can occupy one bedroom. 
  • Disability: People with disabilities have a right to equal and fair treatment when it comes to housing matters. 
  • Military Status: This protection extends to members of the uniformed forces or reserves, veterans, or a dependent as the law may define. 
  • Gender Identity: It would also be illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of their gender. 
  • Source of funds: Tenants, home buyers, and mortgage applicants are also protected against discrimination on the basis of a lawful income source. The sources may be subsidy programs, benefits, or assistance. 
  • Sexual Orientation: Regardless of a person’s sexual orientation, they have a right to equal and fair treatment when it comes to housing matters. 
  • Elderliness: This applies to those individuals who are 55 years old or more. It’d be illegal for a landlord to deny such people housing opportunities just because of their age. 
  • Sex: As a landlord, it’d be illegal for you to have a gender preference when renting out your property. You must treat all sexes equally. 

What Government Agency Handles the Enforcement of Fair Housing Laws in Virginia?

The government agency tasked with this responsibility is the Virginia Fair Housing Board. 

judge sitting at their desk looking over contracts with a gavel next to them

The following are actions that the board may interpret as discriminatory: 

  • Lying about the availability of a rental unit
  • Offering tenants of different characteristics different terms or conditions in their lease agreements 
  • Refusing to grant disabled tenants a request for reasonable modifications or accommodations 
  • Steering tenants away from neighborhoods because of their race, color, or national origin
  • Asking discriminatory questions during the tenant screening
  • Failing to handle maintenance issues properly as a result of not having a clear maintenance response policy 

What are the Exemptions to the Fair Housing Act? 

In very limited circumstances, the Fair Housing Act makes the following exemptions:

  • Single-family homes that the owner rents out without using any brokerage services. The owner must not own more than 3 homes at a time and must not include discriminatory phrases in the marketing ad. 
  • A dwelling has a maximum of four units, and the owner occupies one of the units. 
  • Housing for the elderly people. The home must be solely occupied by renters aged 55 years and above. 
  • Housing that is operated by private or religious organizations. 

How Can Landlords Avoid Housing Discrimination Claims in Virginia? 

As a landlord, the following are 3 tips to help you stay compliant with the Virginia Fair Housing Act: 

Have a Consistent Tenant Screening Process 

The tenant screening process is often a source for housing discrimination claims, especially for new landlords. When screening tenants, make sure to go through the exact same process for every potential tenant. 

landlord showing two tenants list of screening questions on an ipad

Require every potential tenant to provide you with the same documents and pay the same fees where applicable. It would help if you also treated each applicant with respect and dignity. 

The following are screening questions you’ll want to avoid asking prospective tenants: 

  • How many children do you have?
  • Are you gay?
  • Are you a Christian?
  • Is that a service dog?
  • What’s your ethnicity?

Draft a Proper Rental Ad

Your rental ad must not be seen to provide limitations or preference to tenants on the basis of a protected class. The following are discriminatory phrases that you must avoid including in a rental ad when advertising your unit:

  • Ideal for a Female Student
  • Ideal for a Single Professional
  • Christians Preferred
  • No Pets Allowed

Instead, focus on the unique qualities that make your rental property stand out. 

Hire a Property Management Company

If you are not familiar with your legal obligations, hiring an experienced property manager could be a smart move. A good property manager will have a good understanding of relevant Virginia laws such as security deposit limits, rent increase policies, and the proper eviction process, and will help you stay compliant. 

And that’s not the only help they can offer. They can also help fill your vacancies, collect rent, maintain the unit, and file your returns during the tax season. 

Bottom Line

Understanding and abiding by the Fair Housing Act will help your rental business stay legally compliant. Do you still have a question regarding the Virginia Fair Housing Act? If so, KRS Holdings can help! Our goal is to help property owners in Richmond achieve peace of mind and maximize their earnings. Get in touch to learn more!


Disclaimer: This blog should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state. Laws change, and this post might not be updated at the time of your reading. Please contact us for any questions you have in regard to this content or any other aspect of your property management needs.