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, 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?