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 Some Iowa landlords may be in for a surprise as the state’s Civil Rights Commission conducts random testing on Fair Housing issues.

According to a report, the Commission is questioning landlords on the topic of discrimination. Those who fail the test may face fines up to $2,600, according to the report.

The tests are being conducted over the phone, and the Siouxland Rental Association warns that the wrong answers could get some landlords in hot water.

If you are not sure you could pass such a test, then now’s a good time to review the rules.

Every landlord needs to understand the law when it comes to discrimination.   Landlords must apply all rental policies equally, without singling out or encouraging a select group of applicants or tenants.

A good place to start is recognizing which rental applicants and tenants are protected. According to the federal Fair Housing Act, no rental property owner or manager may take actions that affect the terms or conditions of housing based on “race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap.”  Recently,  HUD has been targeting landlords who reject tenants with children based on occupancy standards, or charge families higher rent or deposits, or limited children to specific units.  Also, a number of landlords have recently been prosecuted for applying pet rules to exclude or regulate companion animals requested by applicants or tenant with disabilities.

In addition to the HUD-enforced rules above, many states, and a handful of cities, have added to the list of applicants and tenants protected from discrimination. For instance, your local rules may prohibit rejecting applicants because they are receiving government assistance.

Discrimination rules do not require that a landlord choose a protected applicant over others, but rather that the landlord keep all qualified applicants on equal footing. Landlords should take care when developing a leasing policy where they pass over an applicant for one that applied at a later date. Also, what you communicate to a rejected applicant should be truthful.  If they become suspicious,  a made-up excuse could come back to haunt you.

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