Section 804(c) of the Fair Housing Act states in relevant part that it is “unlawful to make, print or publish, or cause to be made, printed, or published, any notice, statement, or advertisement, with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling, that indicated any preference, limitation, or discrimination because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin, or an intention to make any such preference, limitation, or discrimination.”
In addition, Connecticut expands the protected classes to also include: ancestry, marital status, age (except minors), sexual orientation, source of income, gender identity or expression.
Federal and state totals thirteen categories!
How do we know if we are using discriminatory words, phrases, symbols or visual aids? In today’s world, the line continues to be blurred to the extent that it is becoming incredibly difficult to create advertising which differentiates one property or landlord from another.
Let’s use a sample ad: For Rent, 3-bedroom home, historic charm, built in 1800’s, large master bedroom, open level yard for entertaining. Safe, family neighborhood, only a short walk to the park and Catholic Church. House is ready now, move in before Easter!
How about pictures for your ads? Are you using symbols which may create the intention to make a preference, limitation or discrimination? Use care when using pictures to avoid the problems. For example, how does it look when you have a picture in front of the house with the mom, dad, two kids and the golden retriever in the yard? How about the picture of the house with the cross by the front door or the Christmas decorations?
My review leads me back to a simple proposition… describe the rental, not what is the ideal renter.
For example, don’t say “perfect for a couple” or “great for a single professional” … again, who is the property describing? How about “handyman special” does this imply that a person with a disability should not be interested because they can’t personally climb on the roof to make repairs?
On a side note, publishing in traditional media has a slight layer of protection because the publisher can be dragged into the fray or discrimination even if they run the ad you created. But, beware, the internet publisher has a different set of rules for content posted by third parties so they may be more lax when you run afoul of the discriminatory advertising rules.
Conclusion: Be cautious! Parse through every aspect of your proposed ads to avoid the word, symbol or phrase that will get you in HOT WATER.