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, December 29, 2009

Fair Housing Helper™ Ushers in 2010 With Fairhousingresources.com

Fair Housing Helper™, owner of Fair Housing Blog, is pleased to announce the launch this week of Fair Housing Resources by Fair Housing Helper™, or Fairhousingresources.com.

Designed for multifamily professionals, tenants, apartment hunters, and others seeking reliable information about housing discrimination laws in the United States, the site offers visitors access to an abundance of useful information directly from the home page.

At Fairhousingresources.com, you can find:
  • Information on Fair Housing Helper™ training and Fair Housing Blog by Fair Housing Helper™, with a scrolling showcase of the latest blog posts.

  • The full text of the Fair Housing Act (FHA), which you can search or browse by section.

  • The official FHA regulations from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

  • The latest fair housing news from across the Web.

  • Information on state fair housing laws, including a handy, interactive "Protected Classes Tool."

  • Links to important fair housing cases and enforcement efforts by HUD and the Department of Justice.

  • A summary chart of related laws, including descriptions and links to the laws and their regulations.

  • Key government guidance, from reasonable accommodations to terrorism concerns.

  • Links to topical articles written by Fair Housing Helper™'s founder and president, Ron Leshnower, for the Apartment Living / Rental site of About.com, a part of The New York Times Company.

  • Industry jobs and events listings, with the ability to post your own jobs and events for free.
Fairhousingresources.com is the third addition to the Fair Housing Helper™ family of Web sites. Fairhousinghelper.com offers training for multifamily professonals, and Fairhousingblog.com is dedicated to covering a variety of interesting, timely housing discrimination issues while inviting thoughtful discussion.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

New HUD Charge Shines Spotlight on Interracial Dating

"I do not have any blacks on my property and I am aware that we have a biracial president, but no federal law will make me rent to anyone I do not want to."

No federal law other than the Fair Housing Act (FHA), that is. The manager of a trailer home in Alabama reportedly made this statement to an investigator from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), following accusations of race and color discrimination from tenants.

While the owner and manager had no issue with the race of their tenants (who were white), they apparently were perturbed by the fact that one of the tenants had a black boyfriend who visited her in the trailer during a college break. After making things difficult for the tenants by disconnecting the water during his visit, the owner and manager finally just ordered the tenants to leave.

Having concluded its investigation, HUD announced yesterday that it has charged the owner and manager with violating the FHA's ban on race and color discrimination. The two will now have a chance to defend themselves before an administrative law judge. In addition to compensatory damages and a civil penalty, they may face punitive damages for what the HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity labeled an "overt act of discrimination."

Monday, December 21, 2009

Familial Status Definition Shows Its Breadth

If you're wondering what the Fair Housing Act's (FHA) ban on familial status is all about, the short answer is that it aims to protect people who have at least one child under 18 living with them. But the law defines "familial status" broadly, making clear that the protection "shall apply to any person who... is in the process of securing legal custody" of any such child.

A mother of seven in Las Vegas, Nevada is no doubt happy about that. Last December, she applied to rent a four-bedroom house for herself and three of her four biological children (the fourth being away at school). The landlord's broker thought that would be fine. But when the mother then added that she's in the process of adopting three more children, the broker said enough's enough — even though the house apparently could legally accommodate them all.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently charged the landlords and the broker with familial status discrimination. They now risk that an administrative law judge may order them to pay damages and a civil penalty.

Interesting to note:
  • The landlord instead rented the house to a family with one child. So, this case also illustrates that it's possible to violate the FHA's ban on familial status discrimination even if a landlord denies one family with children in favor of another.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

GAO Says DOJ Should Indicate Reasons for Rejecting Fair Housing Complaints

On December 3, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on how the Department of Justice's (DOJ) Civil Rights Division can increase its enforcement efforts. After reviewing the Division's activities between 2001 and 2007, the GAO recommends that the Division alter its Interactive Case Management System (ICM) to include a field for capturing the reasons that fair housing and other matters are closed. Taking this step would strengthen the Division's ability to account for its efforts, the GAO argues.

The GAO report also noted that most (456 of 517) of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) matters the Division handled were initiated under the DOJ's "pattern or practice" authority, primarily alleging discrimination on the basis of race or disability and involving land use/zoning/local government or rental issues. Most (250 of 269) of the cases filed as plaintiff included an FHA claim. These FHA cases primarily involved rental issues (146) and alleged discrimination on the basis of disability (115) or race (70).

Monday, November 30, 2009

Landlording in a World of Fair Housing Testing

Government and fair housing agencies across the United States have been using so-called "testers" for years to help craft compelling cases of housing discrimination.

Testers are people who call or visit properties to inquire about vacancies. They pretend to be genuinely interested in renting or buying them, but their true, secret purpose is to determine whether a property owner or manager is complying with fair housing laws.

Fair housing testing programs have proven effective at gathering evidence because their targets don't realize they're under investigation and therefore often have their guard down (and their mouth open).

For a good example of how much testers can help a case, you needn't look far into the past. A complaint filed November 23, 2009 by the Department of Justice (DOJ) against an Illinois landlord for discrimination based on race and color shows the type of useful evidence testers can obtain.

According to the complaint, the Illinois landlord allegedly refused to rent a single-family house in a Chicago suburb to a black couple because of their race. The couple suspected race as a factor because after they arrived to look at the property, the landlord was quick to tell them he just rented the house to a white prospect. The landlord also insisted that the couple wouldn't be interested in his other vacancy.

The next day, the wife decided to call the landlord to ask the status of the property they had just visited, without identifying herself. When the landlord told her it was available, this confirmed the couple's suspicions and led them to pursue a fair housing claim.

A local fair housing agency and the DOJ each dispatched testers to contact the landlord in the hope of gathering more evidence to bolster their discrimination case against him.

Here's what the testing produced, according to the complaint:

  • The landlord didn't return a phone call from a black tester inquiring about the house.

  • The landlord separately told two white testers that the house was available and invited them to see it. While showing the property to each of the white testers, the landlord: a) asked the tester if her husband was black (to which each one said no); b) told the tester about problems he had after unknowingly renting the house to an interracial couple; c) made various statements against renting to black tenants; and d) claimed to have rejected a black prospect's offer to rent the house at the advertised rent with paying a year's worth of rent upfront. The also landlord told one of the white testers that several black people inquired about the house, and he offered a discounted rent to the other tester because she was white.
If there's a landlording lesson to be learned or advice to be gleaned from this type of story, it's this:

Treat all prospects as if they're testers.

Sure, doing so is smart because it means not helping the government build a case against you. But, more importantly and proactively, if landlords require staff not only to get fair housing training but to keep fair housing concerns in mind when interacting with prospects, they'll be much less likely to say or do something that could lead — fairly or unfairly — to accusations of discrimination.

Interesting to note:

  • The Department of Justice (DOJ) launched its testing program in 1992. Since then, the DOJ has recruited and trained over 1,000 employees to pose as testers.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Landlord May Take a Bath for Refusing to Allow Modification of One

After refusing to let a tenant modify her bathroom to make it more accessible, a Brooklyn, New York landlord has finally come clean. But the delay was costly, as the landlord now faces $80,000 in damages for the alleged harm he caused by taking nearly two years to grant the tenant's reasonable modification request under the Fair Housing Act.

The tenant, who suffered from emphysema, heart disease, sciatica, and rheumatoid arthritis, had requested a walk-in shower to replace the bathtub. She explained in numerous letters to the landlord that she needed the modification for her disability. As The New York Post reported, United Cerebral Palsy agreed to install the more accessible shower for free, and so the replacement would cost the landlord nothing.

As the landlord continued to ignore the tenant's requests, she reportedly often had to travel from her third-floor walk-up several blocks to bathe at her daughter's house. When finally reached for comment, the landlord pointed out that the tenant doesn't pay much for her rent-controlled apartment, and suggested she move to a nursing home.

An administrative law judge didn't buy it. On September 25, the judge ordered the landlord to pay a $50,000 penalty plus $30,000 to the tenant for her mental suffering, and to install the requested shower at the landlord's own expense.

When the tenant returned home from a hospital visit recently, she found the shower she had requested. Although this incident may one day become water under the bridge, this landlord isn't likely to forget that federal law requires landlords to consider requests that disabled tenants make for modifications to their apartments, and then grant them if they're reasonable.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

LANDMARK: Landlords Agree to Largest-Ever DOJ Rental Housing Discrimination Settlement

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it filed a proposed consent order to obtain the largest-ever settlement in connection with a rental housing discrimination lawsuit.

Los Angeles Clippers owner and landlord Donald Sterling, his wife Rochelle Sterling, the Sterling Family Trust, and The Korean Land Company, L.L.C. have agreed, without admitting liability or wrongdoing, to pay $2.725 million to settle allegations that they violated the Fair Housing Act by discriminating based on race, national origin, and familial status at apartment buildings they own and manage in Los Angeles.

The complaint, filed in August 2006, alleged that the defendants discriminated against non-Korean prospects and tenants in connection with renting apartments in the Koreatown section of Los Angeles; discriminated against black prospects and tenants in connection with renting apartments in the Beverly Hills section of Los Angeles; and discriminated against families with children throughout the buildings they own or manage in Los Angeles.

In addition to the record monetary award and civil penalty, the consent order, if approved, would require the defendants to obtain fair housing training for employees and monitor their compliance, and maintain non-discriminatory practices and procedures.

The defendants own and manage approximately 119 apartment buildings comprising 5,706 apartments in Los Angeles County. This settlement would also resolve two related lawsuits filed by former tenants at one of their properties.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Looking for Discrimination in All the Wrong Places

The Iowa Civil Rights Commission was happy to announce last week that its search for evidence of familial status discrimination came up empty.

After randomly selecting and then reviewing online and newspaper advertisements for properties in six communities within the state, the Commission interviewed by phone the 35 property owners and managers behind the ads and found that they didn't exclude families with children.

This report builds on two studies the Commission performed in 2008. The first study found that fewer than 1% of 9,646 housing advertisements were likely discriminatory, with 90% of those based on familial status. The second study tested familial status discrimination in Waterloo and found two possible instances (as well as five possible instances of racial steering).

The Commission now plans to turn its attention to testing for other types of discrimination under the Fair Housing Act and state law, including discrimination based on race, national origin, and disability.

Federal Government Takes Aim at LGBT Housing Inequality

The Obama administration recently announced proposals that would give individuals greater rights when it comes to their choice of housing, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Chief among these initiatives is a proposed rule aimed at ensuring that the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community is included in federal housing programs.

This would be accomplished by:
  • making clear that the term "family," as used to describe eligible beneficiaries of public housing and voucher programs (which currently provide assistance to over three million families), includes LGBT applicants;
  • requiring program participants to comply with state and local fair housing laws that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity; and
  • specifying that any FHA-insured mortgage loan must be based only on the credit-worthiness of a borrower, without regard to characteristics such as sexual orientation and gender identity.

In addition to the proposed rule, HUD announced it will commission the first-ever national study of discrimination against members of the LGBT community in both the rental and sale of housing.

Missing from the current set of proposals is an amendment to the Fair Housing Act to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. Will this come next? Should it?

What do you think?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Paying Dearly for Fair Housing Violations, Despite Good Intentions

You might think that a housing provider that markets itself to people with severe disabilities wouldn't likely be the defendant in a lawsuit alleging violation of the Fair Housing Act's (FHA) ban on disability-based discrimination.

But not only has such a provider — New Horizons Village of Unionville, Connecticut — been the subject of a disability-discrimination complaint, it has now reached a settlement with the Connecticut Fair Housing Center (CFHC) and the State of Connecticut Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, agreeing to pay a whopping $600,000 in damages and attorneys' fees to a former tenant who claimed the provider's policies were discriminatory.

The tenant's issue was with New Horizons' policy of reviewing applicants' medical records to determine whether they can live independently, according to CFHC. The tenant argued that this policy amounts to illegal discrimination based on the type and severity of a disability. Earlier this year, a federal court agreed, holding that using applicants' medical records to decide which ones are "too disabled" to live independently is discriminatory. The court also noted that New Horizons further discriminated by sharing applicants' private medical information with other tenants.

In addition to the monetary part of the settlement, New Horizons has agreed to revise its tenancy requirements and no longer request applicants' private medical records. Going forward, New Horizons will reportedly determine the need for personal care assistance on a case-by-case basis, and requests for additional personal care assistance by applicants and tenants will be treated as requests for reasonable accommodations under the FHA.

Regarding New Horizons' seemingly good intentions, Judge Janet Bond Arterton, who issued the federal court's opinion, pointed out that "[a] discriminatory housing practice is still unlawful even if made with good intentions if it denies housing to individuals with disabilities based on their disabilities." Laflamme et al. v. New Horizons, Inc. et al., 605 F. Supp. 2d 378 (D. Conn. 2009) (emphasis added).

How much do you think good intentions should count in a fair housing defense? When it comes to alleged violations of the FHA's ban on disability-based discrimination, should a housing provider be treated more favorably if its mission is to help people with severe disabilities?

What do you think?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

How Do You Pay Rent While in a Coma?

If you're an apartment tenant, you know that paying your rent late or not at all can get you evicted. But what if you normally pay the rent in full and on time, and then a sudden, disability-related coma prevents you from sending a check to your landlord on time? Should the landlord cut you a break?

A tenant in Palo Alto, California found herself in exactly this situation last year -- and got evicted. But now, thanks to a settlement with her landlord reached via a fair housing argument, the tenant is happily back in her building.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, the tenant's daughter let the landlord know about her mother's condition within a week after she was rushed to the hospital. Although the landlord reportedly indicated being okay with getting the rent late, the landlord wasted no time in starting the eviction process. The day she was released from the hospital, the tenant got a money order for the full amount of the rent, but the landlord wouldn't accept it. Then, after not receiving the notice of her court hearing, the tenant learned that a judge ordered her to vacate her apartment.

With a rental history now marred with an eviction, the tenant eventually found a much smaller apartment in another town, at a much higher rent. In addition to the financial difficulties this caused, the move to another town also prevented visits with her daughter, who can't drive due to a visual impairment, and grandchildren.

Fortunately for the tenant, she enlisted the help of Project Sentinel, a local non-profit housing counseling agency, which achieved a settlement by arguing that the landlord violated the Fair Housing Act's (FHA) ban on disability-based discrimination by not accepting the late rent payment. Doing so would have been a "reasonable accommodation," which the FHA requires landlords to make when tenants need such accommodations for a disability.

Without admitting any liability, the landlord agreed to make things right by:

  • paying the tenant $32,000;

  • renting another one-bedroom apartment in the building to her at no more than $500 per month for five years, affording her the opportunity to visit her children and grandchildren;

  • helping her repair her credit rating, which was damaged by the eviction; and

  • enrolling in regular fair housing training for five years at its own expense.

Is this a fair outcome, or is it too little, too late? Have you or anyone you know been in a situation where you had trouble paying the rent because of a disability?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Not Complying And Not Caring

If you're under investigation by the federal government for violating a law, saying that you don't care about the law isn't exactly going to exonerate you or encourage the government to see your side of things.

Recent proof of this is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's September 15, 2009 filing of a Charge of Discrimination against a Barberton, Ohio landlord for alleged violations of the FHA's ban on housing discrimination based both on sex and familial status.

The landlord's questionable act was the posting of an ad on Craigslist for a rental that "MAKES A VERY NICE APT FOR SINGLE GUY TENANT." Fair Housing Contact Service, Inc., a local agency that enforces housing discrimination laws, ultimately filed a complaint with HUD, which then had one of its Equal Opportunity Specialists (EOS) interview the landlord.

According to the Charge, when the EOS explained the provisions of the FHA to the landlord and indicated that the language in the ad may run afoul them, he stated, "I don't care about the Fair Housing Act." With a first impression like that, the landlord helped neither the EOS nor himself, as he didn't give the EOS any reason to take him seriously or give him the benefit of the doubt on the substantive issues.

As for the substantive issues, the landlord's defenses appear weak. He explained that he wrote "single" because he felt the apartment was too small for a family (with a child or children). However, the fact that he rented the apartment to a couple (and not just a "single guy tenant") makes it tough to argue that the apartment was too small to be occupied even by a family of one adult and one child. The landlord also claimed that the neighborhood was unsafe for children and that this justified his exclusion of families. If you follow his logic, however, then no children should be allowed to live anywhere in the neighborhood due to safety concerns.

In issuing its Charge, HUD concluded that "an unknown number of prospective tenants with children and/or who are female were discouraged from seeking a rental opportunity." HUD now seeks a $16,000 civil penalty plus compensatory damages against the landlord. In reviewing the facts of the case to decide a fair outcome, the Administrative Law Judge will know she's dealing not just with a landlord who made a mistake and didn't comply with the law, but with a landlord who doesn't care about that law -- and who, self-injuriously, makes sure the law's enforcers know it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Racism Again Proves Costly As a Marketing Strategy

If having no black tenants at your apartment complex is your selling point, fire your marketer. That's the message the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is sending to landlords by going after the owners and operators of a Davie, Florida apartment complex for refusing to rent to black people — and boasting about their policy to prospective white tenants.

Sound familiar? That's because the same type of racial marketing strategy was allegedly recently employed at an apartment complex in Alabama, leading the DOJ to file a fair housing complaint against the complex's owner, manager, and maintenance employee (see "Using Racism to Rent Apartments," July 24, 2009).

The owners and operators of the Florida complex have agreed to settle, in light of evidence gathered by DOJ testers that indicate the complex violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by:
  • Directing the property managers not to rent to applicants who even "appear" to be black;
  • Telling white applicants that an advantage of living at the complex is its lack of black tenants;
  • Encouraging white prospects to apply for an apartment while discouraging black prospects from doing the same;
  • Offering to waive costs such as the application fee only for white prospects.

Under the August 27, 2009 Consent Decree, the complex must pay $115,000 to identified "aggrieved persons," plus up to $25,000 in compensation to additional discrimination victims who still may come forward — as well as a $74,000 civil penalty. The complex has also agreed to have its employees undergo fair housing training and take other steps to prevent violations in the future.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Reshaping of Justice Department Implies Increased Fair Housing Enforcement

A report in today's New York Times indicates a significant shift by the Obama administration in the role of the U.S. Department of Justice's (DOJ) Civil Rights Division.

Attorney General Eric Holder aims to shine the Division's enforcement spotlight on housing and other areas, such as employment, where minorities have been disproportionately treated. The prior administration preferred to focus on individual cases in which there was evidence of intentional discrimination.

In addition to the Division's change in focus, the White House has proposed hiring 50 more lawyers to add muscle to the civil rights enforcement arsenal.

The DOJ and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are the two federal agencies charged with enforcing the Fair Housing Act (FHA).

Do you agree with this shift in the Division's role? Is the hiring of additional civil rights attorneys an initiative that is long overdue, or is it an inappropriate expenditure of taxpayers' money?

What do you think?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What Would the Neighbors Think?

Here's a case that shows you needn't prove a person is a racist in order to successfully claim that he violated the Fair Housing Act's (FHA) ban on racial discrimination.

A New York City landlord allegedly refused to rent to people who weren't white because, he claimed, the neighborhood was white and that's the way everyone wanted it.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently charged this landlord (and his brother, the co-owner) with discrimination based on race, color, and national origin, on behalf of two fair housing agencies, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) and Long Island Housing Services Inc. (LIHS). According to the Charge, when each of these agencies sent minority testers to inquire about vacancies, the landlord repeatedly asked about their racial and ethnic background and made discriminatory statements. For example, the landlord offered what he thought was good justification for his anti-white bias, explaining that renting to a black person would lead to neighbors' complaints.

A HUD administrative law judge will hear the case.

Is the landlord's justification — that he's bound by the neighborhood's supposed desires and prejudices — valid? Or, do you think the landlord's is clearly illegal, given that his statements restrict housing choices, and that his reasoning runs counter to the policy behind the FHA itself?

What do you think?

Bowling Green Votes Unanimously to Expand Fair Housing Protections

On Monday night, the city council of Bowling Green, Ohio voted unanimously to modify the city's fair housing ordinance to protect people based on additional protected classes. The ordinance will take effect 30 days after it was signed, however some expect the issue to arise again as a referendum, according to the Sentinel-Tribune.

Bowling Green's protected classes will include the following: race, color, religion, national origin, gender, gender expression, gender identity, sex, pregnancy, age, sexual orientation, creed, ancestry, disability, military status, veteran status, marital status, family status, physical characteristics, HIV-status and genetic information.

The ordinance also establishes a new complaint process that focuses on conciliation. Next month, the Ohio legislature is expected to consider expanding the state's list of protected classes.

Which protected classes would you like to see in your state, city, or town? Do you think the federal law will be amended in your lifetime to include any additional protected classes?

What do you think?

Interesting to note:
  • In addition to expanding the list of protected classes, the council voted to remove "political ideology" as a protected class, for reasons unclear. Perhaps it was because of the inclusion of "creed," which is arguably more comprehensive.

  • The council also approved a similar ordinance for workplace discrimination, though not by a unanimous vote.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How to Police Online Advertising

When President Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act (FHA) into law in 1968, the government couldn't imagine that just one generation later, it would be so easy and inexpensive for people to place housing advertisements that would reach a national audience. Thanks to the Internet, thousands of new ads appear on Web sites each day. Not surprisingly, this leads to several thousand new instances of housing discrimination each year.

Given that the FHA bars discrimination in advertising, how should discriminatory online advertising best be policed? The traditional route, in which the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and fair housing agencies pursue individual offenders, seems like an unrealistic expenditure of time and resources, one which would require a much larger budget and staff than what's currently in place.

An alternative is to make the owners and operators of the Web sites that collect and publish advertisements responsible for identifying and rejecting ads that appear to violate the FHA, and liable for posting any that do.

The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) yesterday called on Congress to update the law for the 21st century. Newspapers have been held liable under the FHA for publishing discriminatory housing advertisements, but a loophole in the Communications Decency Act of 1996 has held Internet advertising providers to a different standard, helping them avoid liability. The NFHA recommends closing this loophole by treating all ad providers the same.

The NFHA issued its call on the heels of a lawsuit filed last month against American Classifieds, LLC, the nation's largest classified advertisement publisher, for publishing ads in 17 states saying that children aren't allowed, an apparent violation of the FHA's ban on familial status discrimination.

To read the NFHA's complete report ("FOR RENT: NO KIDS! How Internet Advertising Requirements Perpetuate Discrimination") on this interesting and timely issue, click here.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Monument to Fair Housing

District of Columbia Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton announced the introduction of a bill this week to create a lasting tribute to the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by erecting a physical monument in Washington, D.C. According to the Congresswoman, the idea for a monument to fair housing came about by "unusual efforts" of the real estate industry, which comprises the very people who are bound by the FHA.

Congresswoman Norton's bill authorizes the Fair Housing Commemorative Foundation to raise funds for a monument that would be built in adherence to the requirements of the Commemorative Works Act of 1986.

Is a monument in our nation's capital a fitting way to memorialize the FHA? Also, do you think a monument that pays tribute to a law and its accomplishments might also promote increased compliance with that law, by shining a greater spotlight on it?

What do you think?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Using Racism to Rent Apartments

The folks at a Clanton, Alabama apartment complex thought they had an effective marketing campaign going. It appears they made efforts to add something they considered desirable to their complex, then used it to promote the complex to prospective tenants. What they probably didn't consider is that if that "something" is related to racism, there's a good chance the federal government will notice and take action.

Sure enough, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) this week announced it's suing the owner, manager, and maintenance employee of the nine-building, 72-apartment complex for a pattern or practice of violating the Fair Housing Act's (FHA) ban on discrimination based on race and color.

Through the use of testing (sending people to apartment complexes to check for fair housing compliance while posing as prospective tenants), the DOJ allegedly uncovered evidence that the complex:

  • adopted rental policies to discourage black people from becoming tenants; and

  • used the fact that no tenants at the complex were black as a selling point to market the apartments to white tenants.

The DOJ in its complaint seeks damages, a civil penalty, and an order to prevent continued discrimination at the complex.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Did a Home Invasion Lead to a Civil Rights Invasion?

Burglars invaded five apartments at a Kentucky complex within a span of just over two months. Unlike the first four invasions, the victims in the fifth invasion were a black family, and the landlord responded by evicting them because of their race, color, and sex, according to a Charge of Discrimination filed recently by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The Charge outlines several attempts by the landlord and property management company to show that there was no discrimination behind the family's eviction, but the justifications don't appear to hold up. For example, the landlord claimed they were evicted because of "numerous police calls" to the family's apartment before the invasion for what the landlord thought was domestic violence. However, records show that the only calls regarding the family's apartment had been made by the family itself, for reasons such as to report a suspicious vehicle. In addition, the police responded to complaints about alleged domestic violence at some of the white tenants' apartments, which didn't result in those tenants' evictions.

A HUD administrative law judge will decide whether the landlord and property management company should be held liable for violating the family's rights under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by having evicted them. If liable, the landlord and management company may be ordered to pay damages to the family as well as a civil penalty.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Does a Ban on Sober Houses Violate the Fair Housing Act?

That's a question that may soon be litigated in Florida courts. Yesterday, the commissioners of Delray Beach, Florida unanimously voted to pass four ordinances that effectively ban sober houses and other transient rental homes from having a place within single-family communities.

The city's mayor insisted that the move was aimed solely at preventing "unscrupulous and profit-mongering landlords" from operating in their city, according to the Palm Beach Post. But others say the real motive is to help Delray Beach shed its image as the "recovery capital of the world," and the Post noted that residents have complained about added noise and crime from the presence of so many sober houses.

Should the new ordinances banning sober houses in Delray Beach stand? Or, given that the Fair Housing Act's (FHA) ban on disability-based discrimination includes protections for people who have an addiction to drugs and alcohol, should these ordinances be overturned?

What do you think?

Monday, June 29, 2009

HUD Goes Polyglot With Expanded LEP Site

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced this month that it expanded its Limited English Proficiency (LEP) Web site to offer several key housing-related documents in 12 languages. This initiative follows Executive Order 13166, which requires government agencies with federal funding to ensure that people with limited language skills have access to government programs and services.

In addition to English, visitors to the site can access versions of many documents in the following languages: Amharic, Arabic, Armenian, Cambodian, Chinese, Farsi, French, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.

Is translating documents into more languages a good idea so that a greater number of Americans can read them and learn about important government programs from which they may benefit? Or should people be expected to understand the documents as they originally appear in English? In other words, is this a worthwhile initiative of inclusion, or an unnecessary expenditure of time and taxpayer money?

What do you think?

Monday, June 15, 2009

2008 Fair Housing Complaints Break Record

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a record 10,552 housing discrimination complaints were filed in 2008, as compared to 10,154 complaints in 2007.

HUD's annual report for Congress, dated June 8, 2009, provides details and insight into the types of complaints filed under the Fair Housing Act. The plurality of the complaints — a whopping 44% — were filed by people alleging housing discrimination based on a disability. The second-largest type of complaint was based on race and involved 35% of the complaints filed.

Do you think the increase in fair housing complaints is owed to more discrimination, greater awareness of housing rights, or both?

What do you think?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Should Criminals Be Protected Against Housing Discrimination?

Dane County, Wisconsin is tackling the controversial issue of whether a landlord should be allowed to discriminate against someone simply because he or she has a criminal record.

The county is currently considering adding language to allow discrimination against such people, according to a May 19 report from the Wisconsin State Journal. Specifically, the ordinance would say that landlords can turn away prospective tenants based on criminal history if the crime was related to housing and “a reasonable person would have a justifiable fear for the safety” of the property or other tenants.

Is this language fair, or should landlords be free to adopt their own criminal history policies without fear of housing discrimination claims? Madison, which is the seat of Dane County, bars landlords from discriminating against people with a criminal record if their record is more than two years old. Is this sensible?

What do you think?

Interesting to note:

"Criminal arrest/conviction" is not a protected class under the Fair Housing Act or under any state's fair housing law.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

HIV and the FHA

A lawsuit filed May 12 by Lamba Legal on behalf of an alleged victim of housing discrimination against the owner of an assisted living facility in North Little Rock, Arkansas brings to light an aspect of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) that many landlords aren't aware of. Tenants who have HIV (or AIDS, for that matter) qualify for protection under the FHA's ban on disability discrimination because they have a physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.

In this case, the tenant, a retired university provost and minister, was allegedly evicted from the faciliy just after move-in because he has HIV. (He was first diagnosed with the virus in 1987 and disclosed it to the facility at the time he applied, according to the complaint, yet the facility approved his application.) According to the tenant, he did not require any special medical attention, and so the facility was not put in a position of having to provide medical services for which it wasn't licensed.

The tenant seeks compensatory and punitive damages from the facility and attorneys' fees, but also a permanent injunction so that the facility won't deny housing to people because of the fact they are living with HIV/AIDS.

Do you think a housing provider should have the right to reject prospects or evict tenants because they have HIV/AIDS? Do you think the staff of the assisted living facility in this case acted based on outdated and inaccurate beliefs about how the virus is spread? Would you feel comfortable living in a building in which one or more of your neighbors had HIV?

What do you think?

Friday, May 8, 2009

When You Can Afford the Rent But Can't Pay It

Several tenants at a 46-building apartment complex in Rockland County, New York could afford their apartments, but mental disabilities affected their ability to pay their rent on time, according to the Department of Justice in a May 6, 2009 press release. A local housing services organization has been helping by renting eight apartments from the landlord for its clients while guaranteeing the rent for 12 other apartments.

This arrangement appeared to work until May 2008, when the complex's owners claimed they weren't required to accept the organization's guarantees or treat its clients any differently than other tenants. In November, the owners brought a lawsuit against the organization, the county and its fair housing agency, as well as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, to protect their rights.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is now suing the owners, claiming these tenants are legally entitled to be treated differently -- by getting reasonable accommodations for their disabilities under the Fair Housing Act. Because the tenants' disabilities impair their ability to pay rent, the DOJ argues, the complex owners must let the organization assist the tenants in this effort.

Are the complex owners within their rights to require mentally disabled tenants to pay rent on their own? Is a housing service organization's assistance a reasonable accommodation for a disability?

What do you think?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Fair Housing Report Sees Spike in Violations

In a report issued on Friday, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) announced that housing discrimination in the United States has peaked, with 2008 seeing 30,758 complaints. The NHFA suggested there are two main reasons for this trend:

  1. The worsening foreclosure crisis; and
  2. Discriminatory Web advertising.

The NFHA also reported that 93 private non-profit fair housing organizations had nearly twice the caseload in 2008 as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and 107 state and local government agencies combined.

Read more about these trends and others in the NFHA's 2009 Fair Housing Trends Report, "Fair Housing Enforcement: Time for a Change."

Interesting to note:

Founded in 1988 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., the NFHA is a consortium of more than 220 private, non-profit fair housing organizations, state and local civil rights agencies, and individuals from throughout the United States. Through education, advocacy and enforcement programs, the NFHA provides equal access to apartments, houses, mortgage loans and insurance policies for all United States residents.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Have Race Relations Improved Under President Obama?

Tomorrow, President Obama will have been in office for just 100 days. In this short time, has his presidency succeeded in changing the public's perception of race relations in the United States?

According to a New York Times / CBS News poll, the answer is yes. Two-thirds of Americans now say race relations are generally good, with the percentage of blacks believing so having doubled since last July. Many of those polled point to examples in their own towns of people acting friendlier and more respectfully to people of other races.

The poll was conducted nationwide by telephone this past Wednesday through Sunday, reaching 973 adults. Click here for the full results.

Have race relations improved since Mr. Obama became president? If so, how much credit does he deserve?

What do you think?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Access the Full Text of the Fair Housing Act and Its Regulations

You've probably read much news and commentary on housing discrimination, both on this blog and elsewhere. Sometimes, it's enlightening to check out the law itself.

Here are two useful resources, courtesy of Fairhousinghelper.com:

  • Fair Housing Act. Just click on a section heading to open the full text of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) in a new window. The section you requested will begin at the top of your screen. You can then navigate through the entire FHA and print a copy, if you wish.

  • Fair housing regulations. Click to view and/or print the relevant sections of Title 24 ("Housing and Urban Development") of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Another Study Shows Voice Profiling's Prevalence

In October, I wrote about the results of a survey conducted by a fair housing advocacy agency in Marin County, California, which showed that black testers (posing as prospects) were often treated less favorably than white testers under similar circumstances.

On Tuesday, The Fair Housing Council of Suburban Philadelphia (FHCSP) released a report, entitled "FHCSP Testing Audit: Housing Discrimination Trends in the Philadelphia Region," which includes an analysis of its own Voice Profiling Project, in which black and white testers posing as prospects contacted landlords and realtors in the Philadelphia area between 2006 and 2008.

The results show that voice profiling occurred at least 54% of the time, with some black testers being asked to pay higher security deposits and application fees, not being told about certain vacancies, and not being told about any apartment discounts. In 23% of the tests, black testers received inferior service, such as not getting their calls returned or being given the opportunity to learn more about available apartments.

Do you think these surveys imply that voice profiling is prevalent across the United States, or is it limited to certain communities? Can you ever guess someone's race based only on the person's voice over the phone? Can most landlords?

What do you think?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Update: Sexual Orientation Still Not Protected in North Dakota

In an earlier January post, I wrote that two states were considering amendments to their anti-discrimination laws to protect people based on sexual orientation.

One of those states, North Dakota, just defeated the bill in its House of Representatives by a vote of 54-34. A representative who voted against the bill defended his actions by stating that being gay or lesbian is a "lifestyle choice," and not something you are born with, the Associated Press reported. By contrast, proponents of the bill point to the defeat as being in stark contrast with the recent display of teamwork that fought the rising river level in Fargo.

Should people be protected against housing discrimination based on their sexual orientation? Is sexual orientation something you are born with or is it a lifestyle choice? Should it matter?

What do you think?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Evicted Because of a "Gay Pride" Car?

Two tenants in Fort Smith, Arkansas claimed their landlord evicted them on Tuesday because the words "Gay Pride" appeared on the side of their car, according to KFSM. One of the tenants, who is reportedly a lesbian and had no problem with the inscription that was apparently the work of a friend, claimed that the on-site manager ordered her to remove it immediately upon noticing it.

The landlord, however, claims that the tenants were evicted because of alleged lease violations, including having too many visitors and parking cars in other tenants' spots.

Although the Fair Housing Act doesn't ban housing discrimination based on sexual orientation, many states offer this protection. Arkansas, however, is not one of them.

Do you believe that words written on a tenant's car should ever be the cause of a tenant's eviction? Should it depend on the message behind the words? Should it matter if the tenant's car is parked off-premises, such as on the street?

What do you think?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Fair Housing Logo

Are you a housing professional who's looking for HUD's Equal Housing Opportunity Logo, also known as the Fair Housing Logo? Look no further than right here.

Add the logo to your Web site, communications, advertisements, or marketing materials to show your compliance with fair housing laws and affirm your commitment to housing that's free of bias and discrimination.

Interesting to note:

Appendix I of HUD's "Fair Housing Advertising" regulations (24 CFR Part 109) gives helpful instructions on how to use the logo in your advertisements. Be aware, however, that these regulations have been repealed.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

For Property Manager, DOJ Claims Tenants Were There for the Touching

Yesterday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a complaint against a man who managed several mobile homes in the West Memphis, Arkansas area, alleging a pattern or practice of sexual harassment in violation of the Fair Housing Act's ban on sex-based discrimination. If the allegations in the complaint are true, then it's clear this is a man who used his position to take advantage of tenants and prospective tenants repeatedly, interfering with their housing and their dignity while thinking nothing of invading their privacy and their person.

The complaint describes the property manager's acts of sexual harassment in strong terms, labeling it as "severe, pervasive, and unwelcome." The man, whose name ironically is "Hurt," is accused of doing the following and more on a regular basis:
  • entering female tenants' homes without notice or consent
  • touching female tenants in an unwelcome sexual manner
  • making verbal sexual advances
  • taking steps to evict female tenants who refuse his sexual advances
The DOJ is also after the property manager's wife, who owned or co-owned the mobile homes with him and, the DOJ argues, "knew or should have known" about the sexual harassment but "failed to take reasonable preventive or corrective measures."

Should sexual harassment be treated with harsher penalties than other forms of housing discrimination? If a landlord, property manager, or other housing professional is found to have engaged in severe, repeated sexual harassment, should he or she be barred from managing residential properties going forward?

What do you think?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

"In the Terms, Conditions, or Privileges"

We often think of housing discrimination as situations in which someone is denied housing because of her race, religion, sex, disability, or other protected characteristic. But there are many less blatant forms of housing discrimination that are just as actionable under the Fair Housing Act.

One such form is discrimination "in the terms, conditions, or privileges" of a rental, which played a role in the alleged familial status discrimination against a family by an Ypsilanti, Michigan landlord, which just reached a settlement, the Ann Arbor News reported yesterday.

The family was first offered a rental, but on different terms, with the landlord asking for $100 per month more than the advertised rent. Despite the higher rent, the family accepted the offer, however they never heard back from the landlord. They'll be hearing back now, with a $20,000 settlement check from the landlord.

An important point to note is that even if the landlord had proceeded with the rental, it would have been on terms that violated the Fair Housing Act's ban on familial status discrimination.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Protecting Children or Discriminating Against Families?

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) bans discrimination based on familial status, which means property owners can't treat people differently because they have children under 18 living with them. However, unlike adults, children are particularly susceptible to danger, and so it's okay for owners to impose reasonable rules aimed at protecting them. For example, an apartment complex shouldn't fear requiring adult supervision of young children in the swimming pool area. But a rule banning children from the pool from 12 p.m. until 2 p.m. so that residents can enjoy a "quiet, adult swim" would be problematic.

The question is, where do you draw the line? When is it protecting children (legal) and when is discriminating against families (illegal)?

Citing safety concerns about children being hit by cars, the homeowners' association at a Florida condominium recently created a rule barring children under 17 from being outside on the property without adult supervision. The association has also outlawed bicycles and skateboards, according to Fox's Orlando affiliate.

Is this an example of a reasonable attempt by adults to protect children from danger? Or is it a violation of the FHA's ban on familial status discrimination? Should the association overturn its rule, and just leave it to the children and their parents to be safe when playing outdoors? Does it go too far, to the point where families with children might hesitate to live there?

What do you think?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Are We a 'Nation of Cowards'?

Attorney General Eric Holder, the first African American to be appointed to the office, delivered a somewhat sobering speech to Department of Justice employees yesterday, marking Black History Month.

While praising significant achievements in our country's racial history, Mr. Holder claimed that "in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards." He further noted that there is "no significant interaction" between people of different races outside the workplace, and that much in this regard hasn't changed in 50 years ago.

Here's the relevant excerpt from his remarks:
As a nation we have done a pretty good job in melding the races in the workplace. We work with one another, lunch together and, when the event is at the workplace during work hours or shortly thereafter, we socialize with one another fairly well, irrespective of race. And yet even this interaction operates within certain limitations. We know, by "American instinct" and by learned behavior, that certain subjects are off limits and that to explore them risks, at best embarrassment, and, at worst, the questioning of one’s character. And outside the workplace the situation is even more bleak in that there is almost no significant interaction between us. On Saturdays and Sundays America in the year 2009 does not, in some ways, differ significantly from the country that existed some fifty years ago. This is truly sad. Given all that we as a nation went through during the civil rights struggle it is hard for me to accept that the result of those efforts was to create an America that is more prosperous, more positively race conscious and yet is voluntarily socially segregated.

Do you agree with the new Attorney General? Are we a "nation of cowards" in matters of race? Are we much more integrated in the workplace than in the housing and social arena? If so, why do you think this is the case? What can or should be done to foster understanding and end segregation?

What do you think?

Friday, February 13, 2009

State's Fair Housing Awareness Campaign Omits Own Fair Housing Law

The New York State Division of Human Rights has been running a statewide ad campaign to promote public awareness of housing discrimination laws. (I spotted them for the first time back in November.) Each ad focuses on a different protected class under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and then lists them all, stating: "Housing discrimination based upon race, color, national origin, religion, sex, family status, or disability is unlawful."

However, as Gay City News pointed out last week, the ads don't tell the whole story. Missing from the ads is a list of the additional protected classes included under New York's housing discrimination law, which include sexual orientation, age, and military status, among others. Apparently, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in giving New York $500,000 in funding for the ad campaign, required that the ads list the FHA's protected classes but didn't limit it to just that. However, a HUD official reportedly pointed out that New York's omission of the state information is consistent with how other states have spent federal dollars.

In light of these developments, New York is planning to spend the remaining $12,000 it has in federal funds for ads aimed at the lesbian and gay community that promote the fact that New York also bars housing discrimination based on sexual orientation, according to Gay City News.

Should New York have promoted awareness of its own housing discrimination law along with the federal law?

What do you think?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Unwelcome Advances Lead to an Unwelcome Complaint

On January 29, 2009, the DOJ filed a fair housing complaint in a federal district court against both the landlord and manager of 11 single-family dwellings in Ypsilanti, Michigan, alleging "severe, pervasive, and unwelcome sexual harassment."

For at least the last few years, the manager allegedly made unwanted verbal sexual advances, entered female tenants' apartments without permission or notice, granted and denied tangible housing benefits based on sex, and took adverse action against female tenants when they refused or objected to his sexual advances. Although the landlord apparently didn't engage in such conduct, the DOJ believes he should also be held liable because the manager acted as his agent and because the landlord "knew or should have known" about the manager's conduct yet did nothing to stop it.

Assuming the landlord himself didn't commit sexual harassment, should he be held liable in this type of situation? If so, should it be to the same extent as the manager? Should the landlord's liability depend on whether or not he actually knew what the manager was doing?

What do you think?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Cooperative Pays Price for Running Unqualified Senior Housing

The owners and board of directors of a 104-unit Wilmette, Illinois cooperative apparently knew that the Fair Housing Act exempts senior housing properties from the ban against familial status discrimination. But what they didn't seem to know is that your property has to qualify as senior housing before you can safely start discriminating against families with children.

The problem arose in 2006 when individual unit owners tried to sell their unit to a family that had two young children. The cooperative blocked the sale, pointing to a rule that the "community is not considered suitable for children under 18 years of age." A local HUD-funded fair housing enforcement agency promptly filed a fair housing complaint with HUD, arguing that the cooperative can't discriminate against families with children if it's not truly senior housing.

The legal dispute recently led to a settlement, announced January 14, 2009. Under the terms of the settlement, the cooperative will begin to operate the property as a "55 and older" senior community. But it must pay — $20,000 to the fair housing agency and $8,000 as a civil penalty — plus agree to fair housing training, monitoring, and extensive advertising showing continued compliance with the Fair Housing Act.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Two More States Happy to Consider Gay Housing Rights

Two states are introducing legislation that would extend their housing discrimination laws to cover people based on sexual orientation:
  • Florida's proposed law (HB 397) covers employment, housing and public accommodations, and would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

  • North Dakota's proposed law (SB 2278) covers housing, employment, credit transactions and the use of public accommodation, and would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Currently, 20 states plus the District of Columbia protected prospects and tenants based on sexual orientation.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Couple's Alleged Occupancy Violation Gives Birth to Familial Status Discrimination Charge

A couple lived at a 16-unit apartment complex in Albuquerque, New Mexico without a problem... until the woman got pregnant.

The tenants rented a one-bedroom apartment under a month-to-month lease, which stated that the occupancy limit is two persons per bedroom. When the landlords learned that one of the tenants became pregnant, he issued a 30-day termination notice, claiming that the couple is in violation of the occupancy limit.

The tenants complained to HUD, which on January 9, 2009 charged the landlords with discrimination based on familial status. HUD noted that the landlords didn't ask about the tenant's due date for having the child or give the tenants the opportunity to move to a two-bedroom apartment. As a result, HUD found that the tenants "suffered damages, including emotional distress, economic loss, inconvenience, and loss of a housing opportunity" and were made to "feel uncomfortable, unwanted, and frustrated."

The landlords now face possible compensatory damages and a civil penalty.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

"No HUD" No Good, Says Coalition

The Kauai Fair Housing Law Coalition has had enough of landlords advertising their properties with notes that read "No HUD." It's not that these landlords are claiming the Department of Housing and Urban Development doesn't exist. They're indicating that they won't consider rental applicants who participate in any HUD housing program, most notably the housing choice voucher program (formerly known as Section 8), The Garden Island reports.

Currently, these landlords' actions are legal. The Fair Housing Act doesn't ban discrimination based on source of income, which means it's up to state and local governments to pass legislation outlawing this type of discrimination, if they wish.

This is exactly what the Coalition is reportedly aiming to do with its "HUD OK NOW!!" campaign. Arguing that that so many of Hawaii's (and particularly Kauai's) homeless are people who lost their chance to use housing vouchers, which are subject to a 120-day expiration, the coalition hopes to convince legislators to make Hawaii the next state to protects prospective tenants against discrimination based on source of income.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

HUD Wraps Up 2008 With Reasonable Accommodations Charges

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) ended 2008 issuing two Charges of Discrimination in cases involving a landlord denying a disabled tenant's request for a reasonable accommodation.

Here's a rundown on the charges, both of which were issued on December 29, 2008:

1) Transfer trouble. A tenant who had difficulty walking and climbing stairs settled for an apartment on the second floor of a Mississippi apartment building. The landlord, however, assured the tenant that she could transfer to a ground-floor apartment as a reasonable accommodiation once such an apartment became available. While living on the second floor, the tenant fell at least three times, according to the Charge, despite the help of a back brace and cane.

Finally, a ground-floor apartment became available, but the landlord rented the apartment to a displaced Katrina victim who wasn't disabled. The tenant, who has since moved out of the building, seeks compensation for her emotional distress and the financial costs associated with her landlord's refusal to grant her requested accommodation. The landlord also faces a possible civil penalty for each violation.

2) A dogged policy on dogs. A Minnesota landlord made it clear that "no dogs" were allowed in the apartment he advertised in the local newspaper. A woman who responded to the ad asked if her daughter can keep a dog, pointing out that it's a service animal that she needs as a reasonable accommodation for her disability. The landlord insisted that "no dogs" means just that, and noted that he recently won a lawsuit over this issue. HUD's Charge notes that the lawsuit in question was dismissed against the landlord because the former tenant couldn't prove that the animal was medically necessary. By contrast, the woman offered the landlord a a note from her daughter's physician to support her reasonable accommodation request.

The landlord, however, refused to accept the note or entertain the woman's request. He now faces a possible $16,000 civil penalty plus damages to compensate the woman and her daughter for their emotional distress, economic loss, and loss of a unique housing opportunity.