What landlords need to know about fair housing

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So you're thinking about renting your home.

It's a fine idea, especially in a city like Austin, where 55 percent of the population rents. And if history is any guide, holding on to your property for a longer-term period while someone else pays the mortgage can pay dividends when you are finally ready to sell.

But there is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about how fair housing laws apply to landlords renting out homes. I'm going to break it down for you.

First, a disclaimer: I'm not an attorney.

If you have specific questions about fair housing and rentals, consider calling an attorney OR try the totally free legal hotline at the Austin Tenants Council. Yes, they mainly help tenants but landlords and real estate agents can call for free legal advice as well.

Most first-time landlords I speak with tend to have a pretty specific fantasy of who their future tenant will be, especially if they are renting out a home they used to live in.

I've heard about buying duplexes and visions of becoming BFFs with your next-door tenant and barbecuing together. Some specifically want to rent to a family, or a young couple. Most newbie landlords want to rent to someone a lot like them, or someone they feel can be trusted not to damage their property, aka not four guys in college.

They may not realize it, but that's considered discrimination.

If you're working with a real estate agent to rent your home, it is totally illegal to pick your tenant based on factors such as gender or family size.

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Lilly Rockwell is a licensed real estate agent and former journalist in Austin, TX.