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.

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.