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.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Discrimination in Iowa Housing Ads Rare

Now that the Fair Housing Act (FHA) has been on the books for 40 years, the Iowa Civil Rights Commission decided to conduct a statewide study to determine compliance levels when it comes to advertisements for residential rentals and sales.

In a press release dated October 24, 2008, the Commission reported that a mere .79% of the ads analyzed in the study — 76 of 9,646 — were flagged as "possibly discriminatory." Roughly half of these — 40 of 76 — were "likely disriminatory," with 36 of the 40 ads running afoul of the FHA's ban on familial status discrimination. The Commission also noted that no single publication it reviewed contained more than four possibly discriminatory ads.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Avoid "Those People" or "Live in the Projects"

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) charged two Tallassee, Alabama landlords with violating the Fair Housing Act (FHA) for allegedly threatening a white family with eviction after the landlords spotted the tenants chatting with black neighbors in the front yard. According to the September 30, 2008 Charge, the landlords made the following remarks to the tenants, which were captured in tape-recorded phone call conversations:

  • "If y'all want to have African-Americans to visit, we're going to ask you to move."
  • "This has never happened with any renters that we've had... It's not fine on our property."
  • "[W]e're not having those people at our property... [W]e own the property and... that's never happened and we're not going to start today with it happening."
  • "We don't want colored people on the property and if you do you should find somewhere else to live."
  • "You should live in the projects if you want to interact with those people."
  • "I will sell the house if I have to in order to get you out... I don't care if you made a complaint to HUD, you have to move."

Unless either the landlords or the tenants choose to have the matter heard in federal court, the landlords now face a hearing with a HUD administrative law judge, who may award damages for actual loss as a result of the discrimination as well as for emotional distress, humiliation, and loss of civil rights; injunctive and other equitable relief to deter further discrimination; attorneys' fees; and a civil penalty. If the matter does go to federal court, the landlord also risks punitive damages.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"Hard and Fast"? Not So Fast...

The owners and operators of an 85-unit Lancaster, Pennsylvania apartment complex have agreed to pay for allegedly refusing to rent apartments to people who need a guide dog to accommodate a visual impairment.

According to the proposed consent order, the rental agent informed testers (posing as visually impaired prospects) that the complex's policy of banning dogs was a "hard and fast rule," and that management told her that no dogs — including guide dogs — may live on the property under any circumstances. The owners and operators, however, claimed they never gave the rental agent such instructions and that they would allow a tenant to live with a dog if the animal were needed as a reasonable accommodation for a disability.

Under the order, which the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed on October 8, 2008 and is subject to court approval, the owners and operators will pay up to $25,000 to compensate victims of the alleged discrimination, on top of a $35,500 civil penalty. In addition, they have agreed to set up non-discriminatory procedures and undergo fair housing training.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Judging by the Color of One's Voice

Fair Housing Marin, a fair housing advocacy organization in California's Marin County, conducted a survey that involved having black and white testers (posing as prospects) call 25 local landlords who had advertised apartments on Craigslist.

The result, according to an article in the Marin Independent Journal, was that eight of the landlords — nearly a third — showed less favorable treatment to the black callers. This included not returning the black callers' phone messages, offering them higher rent or less flexible terms, not telling them about as many available apartments, and not answering their questions about the advertised rentals.

Interesting to note:

1) This is the first time the organization has conducted a survey to test for discrimination based only on telephone conversations.

2) Before conducting the survey, Fair Housing Marin taped the voices of their testers and had them evaluated by a community panel, which reportedly was able to identify each tester as black or white.