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.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mobile Home Park's "Report Card Policy" Gets Bad Grades

According to a September 23, 2008 report by Local10.com, the owners of a Florida mobile home park denied housing to a father and his 9-year-old son after learning that the boy got a bad grade (an "F" in conduct in his science class) on his school report card. The owners claimed it was just part of a valid effort to keep out troublemakers.

But the father argued that the owners' policy, which required children to submit quarterly report cards and that apparently made their continued housing contingent upon receiving good grades, violated the Fair Housing Act's ban on familial status discrimination. The owners changed their minds and welcomed the father and his son into their mobile home park.

Is such a policy fair since it only denies housing to certain families with children (i.e., those with children who receive bad grades)? Is this type of policy fair only as long as similar "anti-troublemaking" screening policies are imposed on adults? If the boy had gotten an "F" in something other than conduct, should that matter?

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Requiring Men to Mow the Lawn Doesn't Cut It

The manager of an Idaho property settled a case with the Department of Justice (DOJ) for his alleged sex discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. According to the DOJ complaint, the property manager refused to rent a single-family house to a single mother, her children, and a female friend because the manager had a bad experience with a single mother and her children who didn't care for their yard or perform other maintenance on another rental house he managed.

The consent decree, which a federal court entered on August 10, 2005, required the property manager to send the single mother $5,000 along with a written apology. He also agreed to take other steps to ensure fair housing compliance going forward, including replacing "husband's employment" and "wife's employment" with "if applicable, spouse's employment" on his rental application.

Did the property manager get off easy? Or was the settlement too harsh?

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

LANDMARK: Ohio Landlord Agrees to Pay $1 Million to Settle Sexual Harrassment Suit

A Cincinnati, Ohio landlord has agreed to pay $1 million — including $890,000 in compensation to 12 female tenants "for personal injury and emotional distress" and $110,000 as a civil penalty — for admittedly violating the Fair Housing Act's (FHA) ban on sex discrimination. The Department of Justice (DOJ) is calling the September 4, 2008 consent judgment "the largest monetary settlement the Department has ever obtained in a case alleging sexual harassment violations under the FHA."

According to the DOJ complaint, the landlord subjected these tenants to unwanted verbal sexual advances and touching, entered their apartments without notice or consent, granted or denied benefits in return for sexual favors, and took adverse action against tenants who refused or objected to his sexual advances.

Interesting to note:

Since January 1, 2001, the DOJ's Civil Rights Division has filed 259 cases to enforce the Fair Housing Act, including 27 cases involving alleged sex-based discrimination, according to the DOJ press release.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Montana Landlords Now Have 33,000 Reasons to Rent to Teens

Little did the husband-and-wife team that owned and managed an eight-unit Montana apartment building suspect that their refusal to rent to a family with a teenage daughter would become a federal case. Apparently, they weren't aware that the Fair Housing Act bans discrimination based on familial status, which means discriminating based on the presence of any children under 18 is illegal.

According to the
Department of Justice's complaint, one of the landlords had "expressed concern that teenagers like to entertain friends and cause noise, and that the older residents at the subject property would not tolerate noise." Despite assurances from the prospect, the landlord declined to show the apartment, instead advising her to "seek housing that was better suited for her daughter."

Without admitting liability, the landlords
settled the lawsuit on July 16, 2008, agreeing to pay $33,000 — $3,834 to the aggrieved prospect, $6,666 to her attorney, $7,500 to the state fair housing agency, and $15,000 to the agency's attorney. (The landlords will also attend fair housing training, develop nondiscrimination policies, and file annual progress reports, in connection with the consent order.)

Interesting to note:

After HUD issued its charge of discrimination on March 29, 2007 that the landlords had discriminated, the landlords reportedly rejected a $4,000 settlement, claiming that "$4,000 was too much."