Fair Housing vs. Unfair Housing

Do you know the difference?

Knowing the difference between fair housing and unfair housing isn't as obvious as you might think. This blog aims to present a variety of important and interesting fair housing issues.

If you're an apartment professional, avoid costly mistakes by reading the stories of others who — even with good intentions — learned compliance lessons the hard way. (For the easy way, click here.)

If you live in an apartment, get familiar with your rights when it comes to housing discrimination, as well as your options for seeking justice.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Fair Housing Act? Fugheddaboutit!

Since January 2008, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has notified several of the New York City's top landlords and their architects that some of their buildings aren't accessible to people with disabilities, in violation of the Fair Housing Act's (FHA) design and construction requirements, according to reporting on August 18, 2008 by The New York Times. The FHA's requirements generally apply to multifamily buildings that were designed and constructed "for first occupancy" after March 13, 1991. (See Section 3604(f)(3)(C) of the FHA and its relevant regulations, 24 CFR 100.205.) They require, for example, usable doors (by a person in a wheelchair), bathroom walls that are reinforced for the possible later installation of grab bars, and an accessible route into and through each apartment.

The landlords argue that they have been complying with the FHA through their successful compliance with Local Law 58, a city accessibilty law that took effect in 1988. They fear that lawsuits could require them to undergo a costly retrofitting of their buildings, which could involve some 100,000 apartments and a pricetag in the tens of millions of dollars.

The DOJ, however, claims that compliance with the FHA isn't the same as compliance with Local Law 58, which isn't listed as a safe harbor for FHA compliance.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Owners Balk After Trash Talk

Most cases involving reasonable accommodations for disabilities follow a familiar formula:
  1. Resident requests accommodation
  2. Owner ignores/denies request
  3. Resident sues

But in a recent case from Puerto Rico (which, as part of the United States, is covered by the Fair Housing Act), there was a twist. The owners of a coop decided to shut down the trash room on each floor of their building and require residents to personally dispose of their trash outside. A resident with fibromyalgia, fatigue, and depression claimed that her disabilities prevented her from complying, and so the owners agreed to collect her trash. However, after collecting the resident's trash on three occasions, the owners reversed course. Not only did they stop accommodating the resident, who continued to leave trash outside her door for collection, but they issued a resolution reprimanding the resident for her behavior and ordering the resident to dispose of her trash in an indoor receptacle that was too small.

The resident filed a fair housing complaint with HUD, and four months later, the owners reversed course again. This time, they gave the resident a key to access the trash room on her floor. Problem solved, it would seem, but the damage was done. On August 5, 2008, HUD charged the owners with discrimination, finding that the resident "suffered... emotional and physical distress, embarrassment and humiliation." Among other damages, HUD's attorneys are requesting a $16,000 penalty for each violation.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Coming Soon: A Majority of Minorities

Some linguists may argue it's impossible, but minorities in the United States are slated to become the majority in this country within just a matter of decades. According to an August 14, 2008 report by the U.S. Census Bureau, this significant demographic shift is projected for 2042.

Here are some highlights of the Bureau's projections:

  • After passing the 50% mark in 2042, minorities in the U.S. will make up 54% percent of the population in 2050 (up from roughly 33% today).
  • Among children, minorities will become the majority as early as 2023 — and rise to 62% in 2050 (up from roughly 44% today).
  • Nearly one in three residents will be Hispanic. The Hispanic population will nearly triple to 132.8 million (up from roughly 46.7 million), and its share of the country's population will double to 30% (from 15%).
  • The black population will increase to 65.7 million from roughly 41.1 million today, although this represents only a 1% increase (from 14% to 15%) of the country's total population.
  • More than 88.5 million residents will be 65 or older (up twofold from the 38.7 million today) and by 2030, when all baby boomers will be at least 65, roughly 20% of all residents will be 65 or older.

Since the Fair Housing Act, not to mention state and local housing discrimination laws, function in large part to protect minorities, what effect will this demographic shift have on the need for such laws? Will there be fewer fair housing complaints and a lower incidence of government enforcement? What will fair housing be like in a world where minorities are the majority?

What do you think?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Game of the Name

A study reported in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology (vol. 36, issue 4, April 12, 2006) showed that just a prospect’s name can influence a landlord to make housing decisions based on racial stereotypes. Researchers sent 1,115 e-mails in 2003 to Los Angeles County landlords in response to advertisements for available apartments. The e-mail queries were randomly signed using one of three names that implied either Arab, African-American, or white ethnicity. The researchers sent these e-mails over a 10-week period — six weeks before the Iraq War began and four weeks during the conflict.

The result: The e-mails that were signed using the Arab name got significantly fewer positive responses than the ones signed using the white name, and the e-mails signed using the African-American name did even worse. This pattern persisted in all rent categories, in corporate and privately owned apartment complexes, and both before and during the war in Iraq.