Whether your Philadelphia rental property is a basement apartment, a newly-constructed condo, or a detached home, it’s important to know that both current and prospective tenants are protected against discrimination under municipal, state, and federal laws. Failure to follow these laws when filling a vacancy can lead to costly fines, lengthy court cases, and even the seizure of your property, so it’s important to know exactly what the rental laws are governing tenant selection.
Federal Fair Housing Act
Under the Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968, landlords who are found guilty of discrimination against current or prospective tenants based on “race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability and (or) the presence of children” can be ordered to pay penalties and damages, including:
- Compensation for humiliation, pain, and suffering
- Payment of penalties directly to the Federal Government, ranging from $16,000 (first violation) to $70,000 (third violation within seven years)
- Attorney’s fees for the complainant
In addition to the protections provided under the Fair Housing Act, owners of rental properties in Philadelphia are governed by some of the most comprehensive municipal anti-discrimination laws in the country. Failure to comply with these laws can lead to municipal fines, court orders, or even liens against the landlord’s property.
Philidelphia’s Anti-Discrimination Rental Laws
Under the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance, in addition to protections provided under the Fair Housing Act, it is also illegal for landlords to discriminate against tenants and applicants because of their:
- Ethnicity and/or ancestry
- Sexual orientation/gender identity
- Physical or mental disability
- Marital and/or familial status
- Source of income, including Section 8 (Housing Choice Voucher) Program participants
- Domestic or sexual violence victim status
The only exemptions from Chapter 9-1100 of the Philadelphia Code are for religious institutions or organizations that wish to limit tenancy to people who practice a specific religion or faith; and for landlords who are renting or leasing one or more rooms within a personal residence.
Landlords cannot do any of the following if it is based on any of the previous categories without violating rental laws:
- Refuse to rent housing
- Make housing unavailable
- Set different terms, conditions or privileges in the lease
- Refuse to make reasonable accommodations/modifications
- Otherwise discriminate
Pennsylvania Human Relations Act
The State of Pennsylvania Human Relations Act also protects tenants against discrimination based on their age in order to fill the gap in the federal Fair Housing Act law that doesn’t mention age.
So, What’s This All Mean For Landlords?
Simply put, landlords must take care to avoid either deliberately, or inadvertently, discriminating against applicants based on any of the above-protected grounds when filling vacancies in order to remain compliant with rental laws in Philadelphia.
This includes the language used in advertisements promoting the vacancy, discussions with prospective tenants during showings, and on tenancy application forms.
For example, landlords cannot specify that they’d like to only rent to families that have fewer than 2 children; or applicants that are older than a particular age. Philadelphia multi-family unit owners must also take reasonable steps to accommodate tenants who have disabilities by providing large-print lease applications when requested, and permitting assistance animals in rental units than are normally deemed to be a no-pet building.