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.

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?