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, 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 Be aware, however, that these regulations have been repealed.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?