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, November 25, 2008

MUST-READ: HUD Guidance on Sexual Harrassment

On November 24, 2008, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued guidance on what constitutes sexual harassment under the Fair Housing Act. The Guidance consists of 14 helpful Q&As, covering topics ranging from same-sex sexual harrassment to a landlord's or property manager's liability for harrassment by employees.

Read the full text of the new HUD guidance (dated November 17, 2008) here or on the "Must-Reads" page of Fair Housing Helper.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Assisted Living Facility Needs Assistance with Motorized Wheelchair Policy

The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a fair housing complaint against the owners and operators of a 58-unit Evansville, Indiana independent and assisted senior living facility, on behalf of two tenants who were evicted for their motorized wheelchair use. The complaint, filed November 7, 2008, alleges that the facility's policy of refusing to let tenants use motorized wheelchairs or scooters in their apartments or in the facility's dining room violates the Fair Housing Act's ban on disability discrimination.

In one alleged instance, when one of the evicted tenants arrived at the dining room on his motorized wheelchair, facility employees reminded him of the policy and then attempted to "forcibly remove" him from his wheelchair. The DOJ filing follows HUD's issuance of Charges of Discrimination against the facility on September 25.

Interesting to note:

You may be surprised to read that an assisted living facility is imposing this ban, since you might expect such a place to be particularly attuned to the needs of tenants with disabilities and more aware of disability discrimination laws. According to the complaint, the facility's own admission requirements state that applicants must be "ambulatory," which the administrator explained means "capable of moving from place to place... even if the person required some form of assistance in moving about, be it a cane, walker, or a[n] electric or nonelectric wheelchair or scooter." (Emphasis added.)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Coop in the Doghouse for 'Unreasonable' Support Animal Rules

HUD issued a discrimination charge, dated September 29, 2008, against a New York City coop for not allowing a family to keep a dog to help their autistic child. After the 11-year-old boy's doctor told his parents she's prescribing an emotional support animal, the parents requested an exception to the coop's no-pet policy as a reasonable accommodation for their son's disability.

The coop agreed to let the parents get a support dog for their son, but with conditions that the parents alleged were unreasonable, including:
  • Requiring the parents to purchase a $1 million liability insurance policy
  • Imposing a weight limit of under ten pounds
  • Banning the use of the passenger elevator when transporting the dog
  • Imposing a two-hour limit on how long the dog may be left alone in the coop
  • Requiring that the dog be muzzled while in the common areas
HUD agreed with the parents, charging the coop with violating the Fair Housing Act's ban on disability discrimination. A HUD administrative law judge will hear the matter, unless the coop or the parents choose to bring the case to a federal district court.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

President Obama and Fair Housing

Yesterday, the nation went to the polls and elected Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States. When Mr. Obama takes the oath of office on January 20, 2009, he will make civil rights history as he becomes the country's first black President.

What will this mean for fair housing? Will Mr. Obama and a heavily Democratic Congress expand the Fair Housing Act to cover more types of discrimination, such as sexual orientation or age? And is the fact that voters made a clear choice for a black candidate a sign that fair housing violations will trend down?

What do you think?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Survey Shows Some Voucher Holders Face Discrimination

Do housing choice (f/k/a Section 8) voucher holders face discrimination?

Yes, according to an October 2008 survey conducted by the Equal Rights Center ("ERC"), a nonprofit civil rights organization located in Washington, D.C. After testing 99 privately owned properties in Montgomery County, Maryland, which bans discrimination based on "source of income," the ERC found that landlords or property managers discriminated against voucher holders 15% of the time.

In 11% of cases, the landlord or property manager refused to accept an application from a voucher holder. In 3% of cases, landlords or managers restricted the use of vouchers, such as by saying the property had a quota. Finally, in one case, a landlord or manager tried to impose different terms and conditions, denying voucher holders incentives such as a month's free rent and a "quick decision" bonus for signing the lease promptly.