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Learning Fair Housing Laws is 'Due Diligence' for Austin's New Landlords

Jon Shapley/KUT News
As the demand for housing increases in Austin, some property owners are taking on the role of landlord.

It’s no secret that there's not enough housing in Austin. The city has few homes with more than three bedrooms, and it doesn't have enough affordable housing.

There’s even a scarcity of upscale homes. Rents have risen as that market has gotten tighter, too. Has the housing demand led more landlords to engage in unfair housing practices?

Jonathan Babiak, who investigates fair housing complaints for the City of Austin's office of Equal Employment and Fair Housing, certainly hopes not. 

He says, for the most part, experienced landlords know the law and abide by it. But he says that "inexperienced or new housing providers who have not done due diligence to become aware of their obligations under fair housing law and other laws – we can see complaints for those providers."

As more and more Austinites are jumping into the housing market by becoming small-scale landlords, Babiak recommends that they learn the law. For instance, if you own two homes – live in one and rent the other – you are exempt from most fair housing laws.

"However, that exemption is lost if a discriminatory advertisement or statement is made,” Babiak says. “For example: ‘this apartment is perfect for a couple with no children.’"

Such a statement discriminates against familial status. The Equal Employment and Fair Housing Office holds classes – both for landlords and tenants — on laws they have to abide by and the protections those laws provide.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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