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My Tenant Said What?!?

Can what your current tenants say to potential tenants cause trouble? You bet it can. In this recent news story from New York one of an apartment owner’s tenants (who was also his son-in-law) answered the door for a prospective tenant. Upon seeing that his potential future neighbor was pregnant he allegedly said “no babies” and shut the door.   That is a big no no as familial status is a protected class. Landlords cannot discriminate against children, even unborn ones.

The landlord was fined $5,000, but appealed. The NY Supreme Court eventually reversed the fine because it stated that the son-in-law was not acting under the authority of the landlord. Apparently he was just stating his own opinion and had no part in the tenant screening and approval process.

If you ask me, this landlord was lucky to get out of the fine, but I’m sure his lawyer was not cheap and the stress was not pleasant either. I hope he gave his son-in-law a slap upside his head.

So, what can you as a landlord do to avoid such a situation? One, do not let tenants act under your authority. Just asking a tenant to “show this apartment” because you do not have time could be asking for trouble. You never know what they might say or do. Two, emphasize in your literature, on your website and to all of your tenants that you do not discriminate against the protected classes. Hopefully the word will sink in.

But what if there is a chance encounter with an existing tenant who says something stupid? What then? Unfortunately it could lead to a lawsuit as anyone can sue anyone else in this country. However, it seems that the courts will side with you if your tenant was acting alone. Proving that however may be a bit expensive and time consuming.

2 Responses to “My Tenant Said What?!?”
  1. I never had that problem. But I always accompany prospective tenants when they visit a property. Good advise on what to include on a website. Thanks!

  2. Hi Kevin, thanks for writing this article.

    The 7 protected classes in the Fair Housing Act are like the commandments for landlords. All landlords must know them.

    If you are going to have a tenant show your property for you, I’d have a chat with that person first to tell him/her what to say and what not to say. Basically I’d want the tenant say as little as possible. Simply open the door to let the applicant tour the property. Giving the applicant a sense of what it’s like living in the neighborhood and apartment is fine. However, if there are any questions that the tenant is unsure how to answer, just simply tell the applicant to direct those types of questions to the landlord.

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