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Fair Housing Act Compliance in Marketing

This piece originally appeared in the September 2022 edition of MReport magazine, online now.

Closing the gap between leads and new leases comes down to the details, and compliance with the Fair Housing Act is a major part of that. Offering a welcoming and nondiscriminatory environment to every renter will safeguard your property’s marketing efforts today and continue to attract qualified renters in the future.

Properties lose much more than a prospective renter when they are not compliant with Fair Housing Act regulations, and complaints may be more common than you think. According to the National Fair Housing Alliance 2021 Fair Housing Trends Report, 20,860 rental housing discrimination complaints were filed in 2020 alone. Of all housing discrimination complaints that were filed, rental-related complaints were the most frequent. This is because renting is the most frequent type of housing transaction. The simplicity of rental transactions compared to home buying and other transactions can often make it easier to pinpoint discrimination.

The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) defines the Fair Housing Act as protecting “people from discrimination when they are renting or buying a home,” and prohibits making, printing, or publishing “any notice statement or advertisement with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination.”

Although broadly understood by multifamily housing professionals, the Fair Housing Act filters through every detail of your property’s interaction with renters. If those details are off, all the work you have done to build a strong presence through your property marketing and secure a reputation of fairness is at risk.

We will cover common areas that are overlooked and how properties can secure their marketing and advertising at every stage in the renter journey.

Routinely Refresh Your Awareness of Protected Classes
There are seven protected classes under the Fair Housing Act. It is illegal to show a preference, alter housing terms, or refuse to accommodate based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status. While these seven are nationally held regulations, it is also critical to understand the protected classes within your local jurisdiction. Many state laws have broader protections for classes such as source of income, marital status, and sexual orientation.

The messaging, imagery, and advertising targeting you select for your community’s marketing initiatives are all subject to the FHA and local fair housing laws or regulations. It is important to secure each tactic by understanding guidelines and eliminating ways that a property may unintentionally breach these laws and regulations.

Fair Messaging and Property Descriptions
Do not get your property into a bind with property descriptions that could be discriminatory.

One way to do this is by focusing on why your property is ideal for renters, not who your ideal renter is. Stay away from statements that could be seen as excluding someone in a protected class or showing a preference for a specific characteristic.

For example, avoid language such as “perfect for families,” and instead, share the facts of what your property offers and its amenities. Describe what makes your community family-friendly instead such as playgrounds, large yards, pool, common outdoor eating areas, or nearby parks. This approach lets you bring out the highlights of your community without excluding potential renters.

Clarity in communication is also crucial here. Give consistent and truthful information to all parties interested in your property.

This includes inquiries about your community’s availability, price, amenities, and policies across all digital channels and within on-site communication.

Inclusive Imagery and Design Details
Equity also comes down to your property’s visual presence, whether that’s the website, advertisements, on-site materials, welcome packets, email campaigns, social media, or listings.

The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) requires that all properties include an equal housing opportunity “logo type, statement, or slogan” in advertisements.

Also, if you use models in your advertisements, be sure to show diversity of residents within your chosen images to present an inclusive and welcoming environment to all prospects.

Effective and Compliant Audience Targeting
While marketers in other industries may build lists based on a specific set of demographics (age, gender, ZIP code, etc.), targeting or suppressing groups based on any of the protected classes is strictly prohibited for the housing industry. For property teams that build lists manually, this can often lead to compiling audience lists that are too broad. Budgets can be overspent targeting people who are not actively interested in renting a home.

How to Refine Your Audience While Maintaining FHA Regulations
The difference is in the data. Instead of pulling together broad lists in the hopes that you will reach someone who might be looking for an apartment, multifamily advertising platforms are uniquely positioned to identify actively searching renters.

Industry-leading solutions for search and social advertising can utilize first-party data from multifamily-advertising platforms to serve ads to renters who are actively looking in a given area.

Geofencing is another Fair Housing Act-friendly solution (while restrictions do apply) for multifamily advertisers who want to refine their audiences to reach prospective renters in their favorite nearby locations.

Powered by location-based technology, geofencing allows multifamily marketers to choose locations where they would like to display digital ads. Once a “digital fence” is created, ads can appear in real-time to everyone visiting nearby hotspots like their favorite coffee shops, fitness centers, and more.

The Speaking Stage
Once the leads begin to roll in from your marketing efforts, it is time for the moments of truth: follow-up calls, tours, and final conversations. This is where your property needs well-trained renter support teams, on-site staff, and consistent communication.

Properties are often most vulnerable to compliance missteps during these one-on-one interactions between the property and the prospective renter.

FHA-trained support teams can act as additional resources to answer renter inquiries and guide conversations in a way to maintain compliance. Ensure that all renter-facing staff on-site are trained in how to provide Fair Housing Act-compliant responses, whether those responses are in-person, via email, or even in automated interactions, phone conversations, or web chats.

Have a process in place for monitoring renter communication and marking corrections if any complaints should arise. If handled well, these critical conversations will build trust with renters, so they can confidently move forward with signing a lease.

About Author: Rachel Richardson

Rachel Richardson is a Demand Generation Specialist with Rent., a digital marketing solutions company that empowers millions nationwide to find apartments and houses for rent.
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