Alabama does not protect tenants from landlords who deny an apartment application based on the type of job they have. There are few exceptions when the job is related to the tenant’s gender, race, religion, or other protected categories under the Fair Housing Act. Some states, counties, and cities may block landlords from discriminating against Section 8 Voucher tenant applicants and landlords should know it’s illegal to have a blanket policy of denying all applicants with a criminal record.
Section 8 Voucher Recipients
Alabama does not prohibit landlords from denying tenants because they are a Section 8 voucher holder. To the best of our research, we did not find any cities or counties in this state that prohibit denying voucher holders. However, a few states and cities are considering such a prohibition so please check back periodically. Locations with Section 8 Discrimination Laws .
Newly published guidance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) states that landlords cannot deny all applicants with criminal records due to the disparate impact on minority groups. First, the department distinguishes arrests and convictions. Denying housing based on mere arrests alone are discriminatory since innocent people can be cleared of charges. Landlords should be careful since most tenant screening software looks at arrest records, rather than convictions. When there is a conviction, landlords are prohibited from denying all tenants that have a conviction. Landlords must look at the particular applicant, how long ago the crime was, and what the person has done recently. In other words, blanket bans of tenants with criminal records are now illegal and landlords should implement a policy of having conversations with convicts to determine whether they are dangerous. Tenants can report such issues here . Layman Summary , HUD Guidance .
If a landlord is discriminating based on a tenant’s housing voucher status, the tenant should report it to the state or local government that authorized such protections.
Exemptions for Second Homes
Alabama includes an exception intended for landlords who are renting out their second homes. The law is intended to reduce the compliance burden for such non-professional landlords. Specifically, landlords who rent fewer than 4 single-family houses do not have to abide by most of the discrimination laws.
Such exemptions do not typically apply to discriminatory advertising (e.g., “Only accepting tenants over 40”) or where the landlord uses a professional property manager.
Exception for Landlord-Occupied Homes
Alabama has an exception called the “Murphy Rule”, which is intended to allow landlords to rent out extra rooms in their home without a large compliance burden. If the apartment is in the landlord’s own residence, then the landlord is free to discriminate regarding whom they rent to. This exception only applies to smaller homes, specifically where the house or building has four or fewer apartment units.
This exemption does not typically apply to advertising (e.g., “Only accepting white tenants”) or where the landlord uses a professional property manager or other real estate professional. Some states may have additional see restrictions. See state law for more details.
What happens when a tenant reports a problem to the authorities of Alabama or a local government? They may ask the tenant for information to help bring the case, including any evidence (e.g., emails and pictures). If the government finds there’s sufficient information between the tenant’s complaint (as well as complaints from other tenants), the landlord may be charged and taken to court to defend themselves. Landlords will likely receive fines if they lose. The amount of the fines will be determined in part by the severity of the issue. Fines increase significantly for repeat offenders. Ala. Code Sec. 24-8-13 .
If landlords are discriminating based on one’s criminal history or their housing voucher status, tenants should report it to the federal government. They can also report it their state or local government as well. What happens when a tenant reports a problem to the federal government? Landlords that violate the federal Fair Housing Act can face civil penalties up to $16,000 for a first violation and $65,000 for future violations (each act of discrimination is a separate violation). In cases where the Justice Department is involved, civil penalties may rise to $100,000 per violation and federal courts can add additional damages. Landlords should also keep in mind the time and costs involved in defending against an action by the federal government. About 36% of complaints end up with a charge or settlement, based on 2016 data. Data.gov
Reporting a Violation
Tenants may report violations of federal laws (i.e., discrimination against children and families) through the HUD website – it can be done online or via phone. Tenants can report issues to their state government by looking at the state website. A google search for “report fair housing violation in Alabama” will likely provide applicable information. In either case, tenants may be able to call the number on the page to ask whether their situation legally qualifies as rental discrimination.
Retaliation by the Landlord
Federal law (the https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/online-complaintFair Housing Act ) makes it illegal for landlords to harass a tenant in retaliation for reporting a problem. Examples of such harassment may include raising the rent or threatening to evict the tenant. Each such attempt is an additional violation. These protections do not apply if the tenant complained about something that they don’t have right to, so tenants should know whether it’s a violation. Dept of Housing and Urban Development.
State and Local Laws
Laws differ heavily by state, county, and city. Use RenterPeace to see more specific laws for to a given apartment and to see comments from people in your area.
Documenting the Problem
For most problems, tenants should document their issues, notify their landlord (document this too!), and stay informed about their rights. Renterpeace is a free website that helps with each step of this process. Tenants use RenterPeace to more easily see applicable laws, track their problems, and much more. There's a reason RenterPeace was selected "Best of" legal apps for both Android and iOS. It also includes household management tools, like a chore manager and bill tracker. Try it - you don't even to login first.
Using Property Management
To stay updated and organized about the problems in their apartments, landlords should use a property management system. Many are expensive or have high setup fees, but using RenterPeace for landlords is free. It's complete with legal compliance tips targeted to their problems, maintenance tracking, tenant screening, money-saving grant information, and tenant chat. It makes managing properties easier and staying updated about status of rental properties a breeze. Try it today.