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.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Looking for Discrimination in All the Wrong Places

The Iowa Civil Rights Commission was happy to announce last week that its search for evidence of familial status discrimination came up empty.

After randomly selecting and then reviewing online and newspaper advertisements for properties in six communities within the state, the Commission interviewed by phone the 35 property owners and managers behind the ads and found that they didn't exclude families with children.

This report builds on two studies the Commission performed in 2008. The first study found that fewer than 1% of 9,646 housing advertisements were likely discriminatory, with 90% of those based on familial status. The second study tested familial status discrimination in Waterloo and found two possible instances (as well as five possible instances of racial steering).

The Commission now plans to turn its attention to testing for other types of discrimination under the Fair Housing Act and state law, including discrimination based on race, national origin, and disability.

Federal Government Takes Aim at LGBT Housing Inequality

The Obama administration recently announced proposals that would give individuals greater rights when it comes to their choice of housing, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Chief among these initiatives is a proposed rule aimed at ensuring that the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community is included in federal housing programs.

This would be accomplished by:
  • making clear that the term "family," as used to describe eligible beneficiaries of public housing and voucher programs (which currently provide assistance to over three million families), includes LGBT applicants;
  • requiring program participants to comply with state and local fair housing laws that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity; and
  • specifying that any FHA-insured mortgage loan must be based only on the credit-worthiness of a borrower, without regard to characteristics such as sexual orientation and gender identity.

In addition to the proposed rule, HUD announced it will commission the first-ever national study of discrimination against members of the LGBT community in both the rental and sale of housing.

Missing from the current set of proposals is an amendment to the Fair Housing Act to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. Will this come next? Should it?

What do you think?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Paying Dearly for Fair Housing Violations, Despite Good Intentions

You might think that a housing provider that markets itself to people with severe disabilities wouldn't likely be the defendant in a lawsuit alleging violation of the Fair Housing Act's (FHA) ban on disability-based discrimination.

But not only has such a provider — New Horizons Village of Unionville, Connecticut — been the subject of a disability-discrimination complaint, it has now reached a settlement with the Connecticut Fair Housing Center (CFHC) and the State of Connecticut Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, agreeing to pay a whopping $600,000 in damages and attorneys' fees to a former tenant who claimed the provider's policies were discriminatory.

The tenant's issue was with New Horizons' policy of reviewing applicants' medical records to determine whether they can live independently, according to CFHC. The tenant argued that this policy amounts to illegal discrimination based on the type and severity of a disability. Earlier this year, a federal court agreed, holding that using applicants' medical records to decide which ones are "too disabled" to live independently is discriminatory. The court also noted that New Horizons further discriminated by sharing applicants' private medical information with other tenants.

In addition to the monetary part of the settlement, New Horizons has agreed to revise its tenancy requirements and no longer request applicants' private medical records. Going forward, New Horizons will reportedly determine the need for personal care assistance on a case-by-case basis, and requests for additional personal care assistance by applicants and tenants will be treated as requests for reasonable accommodations under the FHA.

Regarding New Horizons' seemingly good intentions, Judge Janet Bond Arterton, who issued the federal court's opinion, pointed out that "[a] discriminatory housing practice is still unlawful even if made with good intentions if it denies housing to individuals with disabilities based on their disabilities." Laflamme et al. v. New Horizons, Inc. et al., 605 F. Supp. 2d 378 (D. Conn. 2009) (emphasis added).

How much do you think good intentions should count in a fair housing defense? When it comes to alleged violations of the FHA's ban on disability-based discrimination, should a housing provider be treated more favorably if its mission is to help people with severe disabilities?

What do you think?