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.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

How Do You Pay Rent While in a Coma?

If you're an apartment tenant, you know that paying your rent late or not at all can get you evicted. But what if you normally pay the rent in full and on time, and then a sudden, disability-related coma prevents you from sending a check to your landlord on time? Should the landlord cut you a break?

A tenant in Palo Alto, California found herself in exactly this situation last year -- and got evicted. But now, thanks to a settlement with her landlord reached via a fair housing argument, the tenant is happily back in her building.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, the tenant's daughter let the landlord know about her mother's condition within a week after she was rushed to the hospital. Although the landlord reportedly indicated being okay with getting the rent late, the landlord wasted no time in starting the eviction process. The day she was released from the hospital, the tenant got a money order for the full amount of the rent, but the landlord wouldn't accept it. Then, after not receiving the notice of her court hearing, the tenant learned that a judge ordered her to vacate her apartment.

With a rental history now marred with an eviction, the tenant eventually found a much smaller apartment in another town, at a much higher rent. In addition to the financial difficulties this caused, the move to another town also prevented visits with her daughter, who can't drive due to a visual impairment, and grandchildren.

Fortunately for the tenant, she enlisted the help of Project Sentinel, a local non-profit housing counseling agency, which achieved a settlement by arguing that the landlord violated the Fair Housing Act's (FHA) ban on disability-based discrimination by not accepting the late rent payment. Doing so would have been a "reasonable accommodation," which the FHA requires landlords to make when tenants need such accommodations for a disability.

Without admitting any liability, the landlord agreed to make things right by:

  • paying the tenant $32,000;

  • renting another one-bedroom apartment in the building to her at no more than $500 per month for five years, affording her the opportunity to visit her children and grandchildren;

  • helping her repair her credit rating, which was damaged by the eviction; and

  • enrolling in regular fair housing training for five years at its own expense.

Is this a fair outcome, or is it too little, too late? Have you or anyone you know been in a situation where you had trouble paying the rent because of a disability?

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