Question: Where can I find a copy of the “Fair Housing Guidelines” for rentals? My landlord keeps referencing them when I want to speak to him about my new lease. He wants to raise my rent nearly $150 a month in my new lease and I want to negotiate, but he says they cannot due to “Fair Housing Guidelines.” Does such a document exist or is this an excuse because he doesn’t want to negotiate a more reasonable rental rate?

Property manager Griswold replies:

As a property manager, my interpretation of their reference to “Fair Housing Guidelines” is more of a company policy statement rather than a specific law under the state and federal fair housing laws. I think that the “Fair Housing Guidelines” referenced by your landlord is most likely just a generic statement that a landlord should always strive to treat all tenants equally. Your landlord probably has a genuine concern that if he simultaneously gave different rent increases for identical rental units then one of the tenants that is paying more may claim that they are a victim of arbitrary discrimination.

For example, let’s assume that a landlord determines that a rent increase is in order based on market conditions and properly serves five tenants with a written notice for $150 rent increases to $1,200 per month for identical 2-bedroom/2-bath floorplans. Upon receipt, one of these tenants is a good negotiator and gets the landlord to only increase their rent to $1,150. This may provide a factual scenario in which any or all of the other four tenants can argue that the landlord is favoring one tenant over the other and the tenants that are paying higher amounts for comparable rental units are victims of discrimination. Of course, it is my professional opinion and experience that there are many physical and other non-arbitrary factors that are relevant in determining the appropriate rent level for a particular rental unit. Therefore, it is very common that each individual tenant may have a different rental rate for the same basic floorplan. Just as in hotels where certain rooms with pool views will be priced higher than the rooms right on the freeway, landlords should be free to set the rental rates at different amounts as long as the basis for the rental rates are always business-based and not correlated in any fashion to the protected class status of the tenant. However, the landlord is taking a conservative approach and treating all tenants equally so that they avoid any perceived perception of discrimination even when any and all differences in rental rates are genuinely based on business factors and/or market demand.

Your local office of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development or the local housing authority can provide you with fair housing legal information, as well as there are many resources available on the Internet. I would suggest you start with www.hud.gov. They have links to state and local resources, too.

Question: I have a rental home and my tenant routinely pays his rent late almost every month, but almost never pays the associated late fees. He verbally tells me that he will pay the late fee and I have sent numerous written demands. A landlord friend of mine told me that he has even had trouble collecting late fees in court with some judges advising that he should be glad that the tenants pay the rent. He is so frustrated that he has completely given up on collecting late fees. My tenant is buying a home and will be moving in about two months so I have stopped sending him written notices, but do you think I can deduct the late fees that were never paid to me from the tenant’s security deposit when he moves?

Landlords’ attorney Smith replies:

Late charges should be a deterrent to late rent payment by tenants. However, the legality of late charges in residential lease agreements is a subject of continuing debate. The dispute usually involves the amount, and wording, of the late charge clause. Despite this, most agree that a properly worded, reasonable amount late charge is legal and enforceable. A late charge is not rent. In residential leases, do not place a late charge on a three-day notice to pay rent or quit. Unpaid late charges could be enforced by a three-day notice to perform or quit. Alternatively, a 30-day notice could be served if the agreement is month-to-month. Although tenant-landlord laws are often silent on this specific issue, it is my view that your accumulated and unpaid late charges could be deductible from the security deposit, along with other rent and cleaning, at termination of the tenancy.

This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold, author of “Property Management for Dummies,” and San Diego attorneys Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenant’s Legal Center, and Ted Smith, principal in a firm representing landlords.

E-mail your questions to Rental Q&A at rgriswold.inman@retodayradio.com.

Questions should be brief and cannot be answered individually.

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