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, 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.