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, December 31, 2010

NAR Bars Sexual Orientation Discrimination... Is Congress Next?

It may not be unlawful for members of the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) to discriminate based on sexual orientation (that depends on state and local law), but members who do engage in such housing practices now run afoul of their own ethical code.

In a ballot vote weighted by size of local association conducted on November 9, an amendment to bar sexual orientation discrimination passed by 93%, according to a report from REALTOR® Magazine.

For the first time, the REALTORS® Code of Ethics includes a protected class that's not a part of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). When this issue was raised among the delegates, one delegate reportedly justified the move by pointing out that the Code's purpose is to hold NAR members to a higher standard.

Do you agree? Do you think such a development is a sign that similar legislative changes are around the corner?

What do you think?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Will the HOME Act Become Law in 2011? Should It?

A bill by the House introduced earlier this month promises to "modernize" the Fair Housing Act (FHA) if passed, supporters say.

H.R. 6500, known as the Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) Act, would greatly expand federal protections against housing discrimination across the United States.

In its current form, the HOME Act would:
  • add sexual orientation, gender identity, source of income, and marital status as protected classes;

  • reinforce existing protections for people who are discriminated against after they have already rented or purchased a home;

  • allow the public to hold municipalities accountable for failing to advance fair housing laws;

  • expand the definition of "familial status" to include "anyone standing in loco parentis" of a child under 18 years of age;

  • improve the Department of Justice's (DOJ) ability to investigate potential fair housing and fair lending violations; and

  • clarify and strengthen protections for people with disabilities.
For more information about the HOME Act, take a look at this excellent section-by-section commentary by the National Fair Housing Alliance.

Do you think the HOME Act will become law in 2011? Should it? Do you agree with the law's supporters that it's time to modernize the FHA?

What do you think?

LANDMARK: Reasonable Accommodation Denial Leads to Record Settlement

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Monday that it has obtained the largest-ever settlement in connection with an individual housing discrimination case. The $1.25 million agreement with an Alabama property management company stems from a tenant's request for a reasonable accommodation, which the company allegedly denied.

What's interesting about this case is how a single denial of an accommodation request could wind up costing a management company so dearly. The reason? The tenant allegedly suffered severe damages as a direct result of the denial.

According to the first amended complaint filed March 17, 2009, the tenant requested to rent a ground-floor apartment in the 196-unit Mobile, Alabama non-elevator building to accommodate a physical disability. Although he needed to use full-length leg braces and crutches on account of paraplegia, he was offered an apartment on the second floor with the understanding that he would soon be transferred to a ground-floor unit. In the meantime, the apartment's small size meant the tenant had to keep his physical therapy equipment in storage on the ground floor.

Despite several follow-up requests and apparent promises, the company didn't allow the tenant to transfer to the ground floor, at one point citing a new rule barring all transfers, according to the complaint.

In November 2007, the tenant fell down the stairs from his second-floor apartment, requiring surgery and the need for a wheelchair.

Without admitting liability or wrongdoing, the company agreed Monday to pay $1,195,000 in monetary damages to the tenant, plus $55,000 in fees and costs to the federal government for the alleged Fair Housing Act violation based on disability.

In addition to the record monetary award and penalty, the consent decree requires the company to obtain fair housing training for employees and monitor their compliance, maintain non-discriminatory practices and procedures, and appoint an employee as "Reasonable Accommodation Facilitator," charged with managing all new requests at the more than 11,000 units in 85 properties across 15 states that the company manages.

Given the facts, do you think this settlement is fair? Do you believe landlords and property management companies need to become more aware of how the law protects people with disabilities?

What do you think?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Making Them Pay for Making Them Pay

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) last week announced that a Methuen, Massachusetts condominium has agreed to settle charges of housing discrimination based on familial status. According to the DOJ press release, the condominium will pay $130,000 to the victims and $20,000 in civil penalties, and its board members will undergo mandatory training on aspects of the Fair Housing Act.

The DOJ claims that the condominium fined families with children (both condo owners and renters) more than $500 after kids played wiffle ball, tag, and other games in the outdoor common areas — but not from other residents (without children) for recreational use of the same common areas. In addition, the complaint states that the condominium retaliated against one mother for filing a discrimination complaint by charging her $1,000 to cover the costs of hiring an attorney to defend against that complaint.

The proposed consent decree will take effect pending approval by the federal district court.

Fair Housing Accessibility FIRST Services Suspended Pending Contract Negotiation

Since the beginning of last month, all services associated with Fair Housing Accessibility FIRST, an initiative sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), have been suspended pending HUD's negotiation of a new contract, according to a note on the initiative's Web site. Since 2003, the initiative has pursued a mission of promoting compliance with the Fair Housing Act's design and construction requirements.

The initiative's instructional programs and its toll-free information line for technical guidance and support are currently not operational. However, visitors to the Web site, fairhousingfirst.org, will be happy to note that the site's collection of useful links, informative documents, and other helpful information regarding accessibility remains online.

The site also notes that Deloitte Consulting has stopped being a point of contact as of October 1, due to contract expiration. Deloitte had assumed this role from BearingPoint in May 2009.

If you've used any of the Fair Housing Accessibility FIRST initiative's services, did you find them useful? Have you ever visited the initiative's Web site to get answers or clarification on housing accessibility and design issues?

Guest Blogging for MyNewPlace.com

I am pleased to announce that I recently became a guest blogger for MyNewPlace.com, one of the leading apartment and home rentals Web sites in the United States. If you visit mynewplace.com/blog, you can find my entry posted at the beginning of each month.

My first guest blog entry (posted November 1, 2010), entitled, "Why Read About Apartment Living?" takes a look at the five ways apartment hunters and dwellers who add apartment living resources to their daily or weekly reading can benefit.

I look forward to writing more posts in upcoming months exploring a wide range of apartment-related issues, including fair housing.

In the meantime, if you've got an idea for a topic, I'm happy to hear it! Please leave a comment.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Artifice Forces Landlord's Hand on Renting to Families With Children

A man called the managers of an Outagamie County, Wisconsin apartment he saw advertised to inquire about its availability. Apparently, after the man told one of the managers that he and his wife had children, she allegedly refused to show him the apartment.

Acting on suspicion, the man's wife decided also to call the manager about seeing the apartment, but making a point to say (inaccurately) that she and her husband had no children. Not only did the manager immediately schedule a showing, but she pressured her to see the available apartment right away, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Further testing by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council uncovered more evidence of discrimination based on familial status, which is illegal under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). For example, the manager reportedly told one tester that she's "looking for the perfect renter, meaning I don't want a lot of kids" and that she charges families with children a higher security deposit.

All this led HUD to issue a Charge of Discrimination, announced October 21, against the managers and the owner, meaning they'll need to defend themselves against alleged Fair Housing Act violations before an administrative law judge.

Rental Reneging Reveals Racial Rancor

Landlords who don't want to rent to people of a particular race normally turn away the prospects early on. But owners of a single-family three-bedroom house in Gibsonton, Florida agreed to rent their house to a black mother and her three children and let them move in without incident. Two days after the move, however, the landlords apparently had a change of heart and reacted in a way that, the tenants claim, violated the Fair Housing Act's (FHA) ban on race-based discrimination.

According to the Charge of Discrimination issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and announced this month, the landlords refused to accept the family's rent payment, awoke the children and ordered them out of the house in their night clothes while their mother was at work, and changed the locks. Fortunately, a relative later found the children under a highway underpass, in shock, exhausted, and visibly upset, according to the HUD Charge.

When the mother learned about what happened, she contacted the police to report it and regain access to the house. The landlords allegedly hurled racial epithets at the mother, expressing their disbelief that she called the police.

Following the HUD Charge, an administrative law judge will hear the case to determine whether the family should be compensated for claimed damages, including economic losses, out-of-pocket expenses, emotional and physical distress, loss of a housing opportunity, embarassment, humiliation, substantial inconvenience, and more.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Survey Indicates More Hispanics Fear Unfair Discrimination

A new national survey of 1,375 Hispanic adults shows that 61% of respondents say that discrimination against Hispanics in housing and other areas is a "major problem," up from 54% from a similar survey in 2007.

The survey, published Thursday by the Pew Hispanic Center, a product of the Pew Research Center, also indicates what may be behind this increased concern. When asked about the most important factor leading to discrimination, a plurality of 36% of respondents cited immigration status, up from a minority of 23% who responded that way in 2007. (In the earlier survey, a plurality of 46% respondents identified language skills as the biggest cause of discrimination against Hispanics.)

Despite the increase in concern about discrimination, the survey notes that there has been no increase in recent years in the share of Hispanics who report that they or someone they know have been targets of discrimination or have been stopped by authorities and questions about their immigration status.

Do you think there's a political backlash against illegal immigration that's hurting Hispanics across the United States, regardless of their immigration status? What other groups of people, if any, do you believe may be experiencing greater discrimination (or, at least, increased concern over discrimination) now, and why?

What do you think?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Comedian Not Laughing Over Alleged Racial Discrimination

Often enough, people who put their homes up for sale decide to stay put after all. If you're in this situation and you haven't yet signed a contract, you should be on good legal footing if you change your mind for a legitimate reason — for example, you can't find another suitable home and you want to keep your children in the current school district.

These are the reasons the sellers of a luxury home in Bridgeport, Illinois gave for suddenly not wanting to sell their house after verbally accepting a $1.7 million counteroffer from comedian George Willborn and his family.

But the Willborns aren't buying it. They believe that the sellers decided not to go through with the deal because they're black, in violation of the Fair Housing Act's (FHA) race-based discrimination ban. In January, the Willborns complained to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), pointing out that the sellers had been trying to sell the house for two years and that their counteroffer was very close to the $1.799 million asking price (reduced from an initial listing of $1.99 million).

HUD issued a charge of discrimination in early August, and the Willborns then elected to have the issue resolved in a federal civil lawsuit. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently announced that it filed this suit, which seeks unspecified damages against the sellers and their real estate agents.

According to the lawsuit and the initial HUD charge, the sellers told their real estate agents early on that they would prefer not to sell their home to a black family but would do it for the right price.

In addition to the DOJ lawsuit, the Willborns also filed a private federal suit against the sellers last month, seeking $100 million in damages, according to NBC.

If the allegations are all true, how much should the sellers and their agents be ordered to pay for their violations? Are punitive damages appropriate here?

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Large DOJ Settlement Shows How Waiting List Mismanagement Can Prove Costly

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on Monday that it reached a $270,000 fair housing settlement with the Housing Authority for the city of Royston, Georgia (RHA), which owns and manages seven low-income apartment complexes there.

According to the DOJ's press release, the RHA maintained a waiting list for its apartments but would often ignore the list in favor of selecting prospects based on race. The DOJ also alleges that the RHA steered black prospects to certain apartments or complexes and offered them inferior rental terms and conditions than prospects of other races.

In addition to the creation of a $270,000 fund, which is intended to compensate tenants and prospects who claim to have been harmed by the RHA's alleged race-based discrimination, the settlement allows tenants who believe they were unfairly assigned to one RHA complex based on race to request a transfer.

When a building has no vacancies, putting prospects on a waiting list is a great way to help ensure people get apartments in a fair manner. But, as this case shows, a waiting list that's not strictly enforced can become a liability trap. Whether the true reason behind a waiting-list exception is racism or mere disorganization, landlords who make such exceptions are likely to find themselves with some explaining to do.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Story of Prospect's Dogged Determination to Rent With Service Animals Highlights Three Key Legal Points

Service dogs are well known for helping people with visual impairments get around — so much so that they've often been referred to as "seeing-eye dogs." But service dogs can also provide much needed assistance to people who have other types of disabilities.

For example, a South Dakota woman with a seizure disorder tried to rent an apartment for her family with two dogs that she claimed were needed to accommodate her disability. But nearly all the landlords she met quickly turned her away on account of her canine companions, according to a recent report from the Rapid City Journal.

It's not clear whether the woman, who has reportedly found temporary housing for her family through friends, will pursue a fair housing complaint against any of the landlords who refused to consider her rental application.

But regardless of what happens now, this story has already brought to light three important legal points that both landlords and renters alike should keep in mind:
  1. Service animals are exempt from no-pet policies. Nothing can stop a landlord from banning pets at an apartment building. But the Fair Housing Act (FHA), as well as several similar state laws (including South Dakota's) requires landlords to consider all accommodation requests from people who claim to need the accommodation for a disability, and grant requests when the underlying need is legitimate and the accommodation is reasonable.

  2. Service dogs aren't just for people with visual impairments. As mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, service dogs often provide help to people with disabilities other than ones affecting vision. In this case, the woman's dogs assist her by howling when she has a seizure, so as to alert people who are nearby and in a position to help.

  3. Tenants aren't limited to one service animal. Very often, tenants need only one service animal to accommodate their disability. But in some situations, only one service animal might not be enough. In this example, the woman claimed she needed two service dogs to help ensure that at least one of them is awake at any given time, since she could have a seizure at any time of day or night.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Unfamiliar With Familial Status?

Familial status, a relative newcomer to the Fair Housing Act's (FHA) list of protected classes, is perhaps the one that's the least understood — by landlords and tenants alike.

For instance, do you know the answers to these questions?
I attempt to provide answers in articles I recently wrote for About.com. Follow the links above for more information.

HUD Reveals Strong Commitment to Indirect Approach in Ending LGBT Discrimination

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) doesn't include sexual orientation in its list of seven protected classes. But that doesn't mean that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the federal agency charged with enforcing the FHA, is ignoring the issue.

On the contrary, HUD recently added an LGBT Housing Discrimination page to its Web site indicating the agency's strong commitment to "ending housing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and their families" as part of "enriching and strengthening our nation."

HUD acknowledges upfront that LGBT discrimination isn't specifically protected under federal law. However, the agency argues that one's experience with sexual orientation or gender identity may indirectly qualify for FHA coverage.

HUD offers an example of a gay tenant evicted by a landlord out of fear he'll spread HIV/AIDS. Such a tenant may succeed in bringing a fair housing complaint based on having a perceived disability. A second example involves a property manager who refuses to deal with a transgender prospect. Such behavior may amount to sex-based discrimination under the FHA due to "non-conformity with gender stereotypes," according to HUD.

HUD also provides a list of states (plus the District of Columbia) that have laws protecting citizens against housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression. Along with each state is the name and phone number of the relevant enforcement agency, as a handy reference.

Do you applaud HUD for directing resources to combat LGBT discrimination in this indirect way? Or do you believe the agency has overstepped its bounds as primary enforcer of the FHA?

What do you think?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Fair Housing Attorney Claims Retaliation Just for Doing His Job

Retaliation complaints under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) typically follow this fact pattern: a tenant alleges she suffered harm (such as an eviction) because her landlord didn't like the fact she brought an earlier discrimination complaint against him.

But a settlement between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA), shows how retaliation cases don't always fit this mold.

In this case, it's the attorney for alleged victims of race-based discrimination who claims he was retaliated against — simply for doing his job of advocating on behalf of his clients.

HUD claims that former CMHA Chair Arnold Barnett violated the law by allegedly threatening to use "public housing resources" to retaliate against the attorney for having filed a fair housing complaint, according to a report from the Business Courier of Cincinnati. Mr. Barnett reportedly made comments to local media outlets, including the Courier, calling for CMHA to purchase low-income housing units in the attorney's neighborhood.

According to a press release from HUD, the settlement agreement provides that Mr. Barnett won't seek reappointment to the CMHA Board and won't be eligible to participate in most federal programs for a period of three years. In addition, Mr. Barnett has agreed to cooperate with HUD and serve as a witness both in connection with the fair housing complaints and HUD's ongoing investigation of CMHA.

CMHA and Mr. Barnett, who stepped down as chair last year and recently announced his resignation from the board, have denied the allegations.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Being White Was Not an Issue in This Ohio Race Case

Most of the time, housing discrimination cases based on race involve complainants who believe they were treated differently because they're not white. But a recently announced Ohio case reminds us that the Fair Housing Act isn't so limiting; this particular dispute actually arose because the complainants aren't black.

According to a recent press release from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), owners of a three-bedroom house in Warrensville, Ohio allegedly discouraged an Hispanic prospect — as well as a fair housing tester — from renting after asking her why she would "want to live in a black neighborhood." The owners, who are black, explained they've had "problems" renting to tenants of other races, and eventually rented the house to a black family.

The owners will now have to defend themselves against a discrimination charge before a HUD administrative law judge.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Common But Illegal: Bedroom-Sharing Restrictions Limit Families' Housing Choices

On Monday, I wrote an article for About.com on bedroom-sharing restrictions that violate the Fair Housing Act's (FHA) ban on familial status discrimination. The point of the article is that while landlords may need to enforce state or local occupany requirements, they must leave the details of children's sleeping arrangements to their parents.

Yesterday, a CBS report on housing discrimination in southern Florida reveals that this form of familial-status discrimination is alive and well.

According to the report, a mother with a two-bedroom housing voucher wanted to rent such an apartment at a complex in North Lauderdale. But the landlord allegedly insisted that she rent a three-bedroom apartment instead. Letting the mother and her two children occupy a two-bedroom apartment would mean either the children would have to share a bedroom with each other or the mother would have to share a bedroom with one of her children, arrangements which the landlord presumably wanted to prevent.

A local fair housing agency investigating the case noted that several apartment complexes in the area have attempted to impose such bedroom-sharing restrictions on new tenants. While not as direct as an outright refusal to rent to families with children, these restrictions are discriminatory because they limit families' choices, leading them either to pay more for an apartment or delay their search.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Government Fair Housing Report Shows Disability Continues to Top Complaint List

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced the release of its first annual report on the state of fair housing since President Obama took office. More fair housing complaints again have been filed based on disability than on any of the Fair Housing Act's (FHA) other protected classes, according to the report's findings.

Of the 10,242 complaints filed with HUD and its fair housing partners, nearly half (44%) alleged disability discrimination. The next most common basis for discrimination was race (31%), followed by familial status (20%).

In addition, the report noted that:
  • This is the fourth consecutive year in which the number of fair housing complaints rose about 10,000.

  • The most common issue (alleged in 55% of complaints) was discrimination in the terms or conditions of the sale or rental of property. The next most common issue was refusal to rent (in 24% of complaints), followed by failure to make a reasonable accommodation to allow a person with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling (in 22% of complaints).

  • Aside from injunctive and other nonmonetary relief, HUD and Fair Housing Assistance Program (FHAP) agencies obtained more than $8 million as a result of their enforcement efforts. In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recovered more than $850,000 in damages and civil penalties in Fair Housing Act cases that were investigated and charged by HUD.

Federal law requires HUD to report on its fair housing findings and progress each fiscal year. HUD offers a complete copy of its new report, entitled "The State of Fair Housing: Annual Report on Fair Housing FY 2009" through its Web site.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Inching Toward a Majority of Minorities

A couple of years ago, I blogged about how a U.S. Census Bureau report projected that a rising minority population will become the majority in the United States by the middle of this century.

A new Census report released yesterday shows that such a significant demographic shift is indeed still on track.

According to reporting from the Associated Press, the nation's minority population now comprises 35% of the total. As white baby boomers have aged, younger Hispanic parents are having children, driving population growth by accounting for more than half of total U.S. population gains last year, the report notes.

What effect will this demographic shift have on the need for laws such as the Fair Housing Act (FHA)? Will there be more or fewer fair housing complaints?

What do you think?

Interracial Marriage and Fair Housing

Interracial or interethnic marriage is reportedly at an all-time high in the United States.

According to a report published last week by the Pew Research Center, roughly one in seven U.S. marriages (14.6%) in 2008 were between spouses of different races or ethnicities. Among all newlyweds that year, 9% of whites, 16% of blacks, 26% of Hispanics and 31% of Asians married someone of a different race or ethnicity.

As the rate of interracial or interethnic marriage has more than doubled since 1980 (when it was at only 6.7%), most Americans (over 60%) reportedly say they approve — even when such marriages occur within their own families.

Landlords, property managers, and other housing professionals who discriminate against tenants or prospective tenants because they married or are dating someone of a different race or ethnicity than their own are violating the Fair Housing Act (FHA). (See, for example, "New HUD Charge Shines Spotlight on Interracial Dating," December 23, 2009.)

Have you ever been turned away from an apartment, been threatened with eviction, or otherwise felt discriminated against because of your significant other's race? If so, what have you done about it?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

HUD Adds Certain State and Local Protections to Federal Grant Programs

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced Monday that it will require grant applicants in 2010 to comply with any state and local fair housing laws that protect against sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as lawful source of income. (Note: HUD later formally announced the source of income in a separate release issued June 11.)

(For a scrollable list of additional protected classes in the 50 states plus the District of Columbia, check out the "Protected Classes Tool" at fairhousingresources.com.)

In the past, HUD has required grant applicants to comply only with applicable federal fair housing and related civil rights laws, including the Fair Housing Act (FHA), Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

For more details on the new grant requirements, read HUD's official notice.

Monday, May 31, 2010

On Memorial Day, Considering Military Status Protection

Today is Memorial Day, a federal holiday when we remember the sacrifice of servicemembers who died protecting the United States. As some are surprised to learn, federal law doesn't protect servicemembers when it comes to housing discrimination.

A number of states and cities have enacted human rights laws to cover this gap in recent years. For example, Washington protects tenants and prospective tenants against discrimination based on "honorably discharged veteran or military status." Illinois, Cook County, and Chicago all go a step further and include military discharge status as a protected class.

Is it time for the Fair Housing Act to be amended to protect against discrimination based on military status? If so, would you be in favor of limiting the coverage only to current servicemembers and those who have been honorably discharged? Or is it best to leave these decisions up to individual states and municipalities?

What do you think?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Fair Housing Report Describes 2009 Efforts As 'Step in the Right Direction'

In an annual report issued Wednesday, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) announced that housing discrimination in the United States remained at a near-historic level in 2009, with the number of complaints surpassing 30,000 for the second year in a row. The number of actual violations per year, however, are estimated at four million.

Although the report concludes that greater efforts need to be undertaken to combat unfair housing, it also acknowledges government programs and initiatives that are "a step in the right direction." For example, the report notes a landmark settlement requiring that Westchester County, N.Y. build new affordable housing in segregated neighborhoods, and it points out that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed its highest number of FHA lawsuits since 2002.

The NFHA also reported that 93 private non-profit fair housing organizations had nearly twice the caseload in 2009 as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the DOJ, and over a hundred state and local government agencies combined.

Read more about these trends and others in the NFHA's 2010 Fair Housing Trends Report, "A Step in the Right Direction."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Preferences Are Troublesome, Even if Implied

Apartment advertisements can run afoul of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) if they show a preference for a certain type of tenant — even if that preference is implied.

A Buffalo, New York landlord just learned this lesson after placing a Craigslist ad for an apartment in a "nice Irish neighborhood." He didn't write "Irish only" (clear discrimination) or "Irish preferred" (direct preferential discrimination), but his decision to use the language he did implies he would give tenants of a certain national origin, people of Irish descent, favorable treatment. Stated differently, people reading the ad who aren't of Irish descent may feel discouraged from applying, expecting that they wouldn't be welcome.

According to a report today from The Buffalo News, the landlord, without admitting liability, signed a settlement agreement with the New York State Division of Human Rights agreeing to pay $1,000 for the alleged bias in his ad.

Interesting to note:
  • While under investigation for the offending ad, the landlord reportedly made discriminatory statements to testers in violation of the FHA's ban on race and familial-status discrimination. One white tester claims the landlord told her "there are no coloreds here... I hope your husband isn't black," and two testers reported that the landlord asked about their children.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Fair Housing Month: Compliance Training for Multifamily Professionals

Too often, good landlords, property managers, and other multifamily professionals are unfairly accused of housing discrimination when they did nothing wrong. Other times, housing professionals with the best of intentions make costly mistakes that could have been avoided with a greater understanding of fair housing compliance.

Fair Housing Helper addresses these situations with an online fair housing compliance training program aimed at helping multifamily professionals avoid violations — so they can focus their time and money on growing their business.

Fair Housing Month may be coming to an end, but compliance concerns last all year round. Sign up (with no obligation) at fairhousinghelper.com to be among the first to learn about the new training when it launches and receive special notification of savings.

That wraps up this special "Fair Housing Month" feature at Fairhousingblog.com. Hopefully, you found the series interesting and thought-provoking. You can read the press release for more information, if you wish, or access all blog posts in this series.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Fair Housing Month: Why Not Everyone Is Celebrating

It's Fair Housing Month, but not everyone is celebrating. There's no question that the Fair Housing Act (FHA) has proven itself over the past 42 years as a landmark piece of legislation that has helped thousands of victims of illegal housing discrimination across the United States. But, even after two significant amendments, the FHA protects people based on only seven protected classes — race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status.

If you think that covers a lot of situations, you're right. But many individuals, advocacy groups, and politicians argue that the law doesn't go far enough. Several states, cities, and towns have succeeded in extending fair housing protection by including additional protected classes in their own anti-discrimination laws, such as:
  • sexual orientation;
  • age;
  • marital status;
  • source of income;
  • military status;
  • personal appearance; and
  • political affiliation.
(For a scrollable list of additional protected classes in the 50 states plus the District of Columbia, check out the "Protected Classes Tool" at fairhousingresources.com.)

Do you believe the FHA should be amended to include additional protected classes? If so, which protected classes would you like to see added? How fair is fair housing if many types of housing discrimination are still legal under federal law?

What do you think?

Return tomorrow for the thirtieth and final part of this special "Fair Housing Month" feature at Fairhousingblog.com.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Fair Housing Month: HUD or DOJ?

Do you believe that a landlord or other party has violated your rights under the Fair Housing Act (FHA)? If so, you can try suing the offender in federal or state court. Or, as I blogged last week, you may prefer the easier, less expensive option known as the administrative route, which involves having the federal government pursue your claim on your behalf.

The federal agency responsible for investigating the facts and handling your claim is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). If HUD determines there's reasonable cause to believe you've been disriminated against, your case will normally be heard by an impartial HUD administrative law judge. However, if you or the other party prefers, your dispute may be litigated in federal court, in which case the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) will file the complaint on your behalf.

The DOJ also has the authority to sue parties who may be engaged in a "pattern or practice" of discrimination, or where a denial of rights to a group of people raises an important public issue.

Return tomorrow for the twenty-ninth part of this special "Fair Housing Month" feature at Fairhousingblog.com.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Fair Housing Month: Download Free HUD Fair Housing Brochures

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers two useful and informative brochures to help the public understand their rights under the Fair Housing Act (FHA).

If you're not familiar with the FHA or you could use a refresher, why not take a moment of this Fair Housing Month to look these over?
  • The first brochure, "Equal Opportunity for All," covers all the basics in 17 pages, including an outline of what the FHA bans as well as its additional protections for families with children and people with disabilities, the complaint process, and the role of HUD and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

  • The second brochure, "Are You a Victim of Housing Discrimination?" takes you step by step through completing the form to file a fair housing complaint with HUD. At the end, you'll also find a handy bulleted summary of how the FHA protects you.
Return tomorrow for the twenty-eighth part of this special "Fair Housing Month" feature at Fairhousingblog.com.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Fair Housing Month: Take Our Fair Housing Month Poll

Since the Fair Housing Act (FHA) was signed into law 42 years ago, it has gotten stronger, thanks to amendments and other government actions. Most notably, the number of protected classes has nearly doubled (from four to seven), people who believe they're the victims of violations have greater enforcement options at their disposal, and potential awards are no longer as limited as they once were.

What would you say is the most significant legislative accomplishment to follow the FHA's passage in 1968? Submit your answer by taking our Fair Housing Month poll (see the right-hand side of this page, toward the bottom). Also, feel free to leave any additional comments you may have here.

Thanks in advance for participating!

Return tomorrow for the twenty-seventh part of this special "Fair Housing Month" feature at Fairhousingblog.com.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Fair Housing Month: Learn the Lingo

Do you know what "steering" means? How about "blockbusting"? What's the difference between "accessibility" and "visitability"?

As housing discrimination issues have evolved over the past 42 years since the enactment of the Fair Housing Act (FHA), several words have emerged that you'll often hear in speeches or conversations, or read in texts about fair housing.

Here are two online fair housing glossaries you can use to get familiar with the definitions of common industry terms:
  1. "Fair Housing Glossary," by the Idaho Fair Housing Forum, a coalition of stakeholders cooperating and collaborating to provide education and outreach opportunities through the state.

  2. "Fair Housing Glossary of Terms," by the
    Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs, a membership-based, non-profit organization fostering open communities in north suburban Chicago since 1972.
Return tomorrow for the twenty-sixth part of this special "Fair Housing Month" feature at Fairhousingblog.com.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Fair Housing Month: Charlotte Volunteers 'Trade Blackberrys for Toolboxes'

The Charlotte Regional Realtor Association hosted its second annual Realtors® Care Day yesterday, coinciding with both Fair Housing Month and National Volunteer Week. An initiative of the Charlotte Regional Realtor® Association Housing Opportunity Foundation, this all-day, community-wide home-repair project reaches out to homeowners with critical maintenance needs each year.

According to the Association's Web site, Realtors® Care Day was created out of a desire to help people whose financial situation has prevented them from being able to keep up with the upkeep:
"Faced with economic challenges not seen in at least a generation, many over-extended homeowners are forced to choose between paying their mortgage payment or performing basic repairs. While it is impossible to help everyone, we can make a significant impact on our community's elderly and disabled, and others living in unsafe or substandard conditions. Realtors® will be the helping hands that these homeowners desperately need."
At last year's inaugural event, the Association reports that over 600 volunteers made improvements to 33 homes, providing an estimated over $250,000 worth of home repairs and adaptive or safety modifications for elderly and disabled residents.

Return tomorrow for the twenty-fifth part of this special "Fair Housing Month" feature at Fairhousingblog.com.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Fair Housing Month: What to Consider Before Pursuing a Fair Housing Claim

A few days ago, I blogged about how easy and inexpensive it is these days to pursue a fair housing complaint against a landlord, property manager, or other housing professional whom you believe has discriminated against you.

But before you rush to file a complaint, take a moment to think about what you're about to do. Formally accusing someone of violating a federal law such as the Fair Housing Act (FHA) is serious business. Not only should you feel confident that you have a strong case, but you'll also want to know that you're mentally and emotionally prepared to see the case through to its end, even if the result turns out to be unfavorable.

Find out what issues you should consider before filing by reading my article, "Before You File a Fair Housing Claim" for About.com.

Return tomorrow for the twenty-fourth part of this special "Fair Housing Month" feature at Fairhousingblog.com.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fair Housing Month: April Is Also National Sexual Assault Awareness Month

On April 1, President Obama signed a proclamation making April National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a time to "recommit ourselves not only to lifting the veil of secrecy and shame surrounding sexual violence, but also to raising awareness, expanding support for victims, and strengthening our response."

It's fitting that National Sexual Assault Awareness Month coincides with Fair Housing Month because sexual assault or harrassment is a form of sex discrimination, which the Fair Housing Act (FHA) bans.

For a recent example, just look at today's announcement by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) about a complaint it filed yesterday against a New York City apartment building super and landlord.

The super allegedly sexually harrassed many female tenants at three apartment buildings over a period of years. According to the complaint, the super engaged in sex-based discrimination through his:
  • unwanted verbal sexual advances, such as repeatedly soliciting sexual favors in exchange for reduced rent;
  • unwanted sexual touching, such as grabbing;
  • unwanted sexual language, including yelling obscenities to female tenants who didn't comply with sexual demands;
  • conditioning the terms of tenancy on the granting of sexual favors;
  • attempting to enter tenants' apartments while inebriated, demanding sex;
  • granting and denying tangible housing benefits (such as mail delivery and making repairs) based on sex; and
  • taking adverse action (such as threatening eviction) against female tenants who refused or objected to his sexual advances.
The landlord was also named in the lawsuit for having allegedly been aware of the super's sexual harrassment and not having taken "any meaningful steps" to investigate his tenants' multiple complaints of sexual harrassment. The DOJ also identifies the super as a registered Level 3 (high-risk) sex offender in the complaint.

The super and the landlord must now defend themselves in court against the DOJ, which seeks monetary damages, civil penalties, punitive damages, and injunctive relief.

Return tomorrow for the twenty-third part of this special "Fair Housing Month" feature at Fairhousingblog.com.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Fair Housing Month: Third Announced HUD Charge Highlights Accessibility Battle

Many tenants who have physical disabilities need accommodations, modifications, or both to get full use and enjoyment of their housing. When tenants make accommodation or modification requests, landlords must take them seriously and grant them if they're reasonable. Landlords who deny tenants' reasonable requests may face charges for violating the Fair Housing Act's (FHA) ban on disability-based discrimination.

That's what just happened to housing providers in Miami, Florida. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) third announced charge of Fair Housing Month, when a double-amputee veteran requested modifications to his apartment or a transfer to an accessible apartment, he allegedly was refused.

The tenant then contacted the county commissioner's office, which got the landlord to allow a transfer. However, the new apartment wasn't accessible either, and when the tenant moved back to his original apartment, he now found it was missing a stove.

The landlord, unhappy with the fact the tenant got the local government involved, allegedly threatened eviction, leading the tenant to pursue a fair housing complaint with HUD.

The landlord and management company will now need to defend themselves against the charge before a HUD administrative law judge.

Return tomorrow for the twenty-second part of this special "Fair Housing Month" feature at Fairhousingblog.com.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fair Housing Month: How to Pursue a Fair Housing Claim

Things have changed since the Fair Housing Act (FHA) was signed into law 42 years ago. Today, people who believe they're the victims of illegal housing discrimination have more options when it comes to pursuing a claim and seeking justice.

If you wish to file a complaint against a landlord, property manager, or other party, the easiest and least expensive way is to go through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

HUD lets you file your complaint online (or by mail or phone, if you prefer), and you'll save time and money as well as the need to hire an attorney.

To find out exactly how this process works and what you should expect, read my article, "How to Pursue a Fair Housing Claim Against Your Landlord" for About.com.

Return tomorrow for the twenty-first part of this special "Fair Housing Month" feature at Fairhousingblog.com.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Fair Housing Month: DOJ Settles Two Familial Status Cases

April's not yet over, but the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has so far settled two familial status cases this Fair Housing Month.

One case is in North Dakota and the other in Rhode Island, but both disputes involve parties that allegedly adopted a formal policy against providing housing to families with children, in clear violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA).

In the North Dakota case, a condominium complex, unit owners, and a realtor refused to sell or rent to families with children under 14, according to the complaint dated September 8, 2009. The DOJ signed a partial consent order with the unit owners, dated April 8, 2010, in which they agree to pay $7,500 in damages to an aggrieved family and a $2,500 civil penalty.

In Rhode Island, the owner of a single-family house refused to rent to at least two families with children. According to the complaint, the owner even explained to an investigator from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that she "has the right not to rent to families with children." In signing a consent order, also dated April 8, 2010, the owner now agrees to pay $9,500 in damages to two single mothers who were turned away because of their children.

Return tomorrow for the twentieth part of this special "Fair Housing Month" feature at Fairhousingblog.com.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Fair Housing Month: Remembering Rev. Benjamin L. Hooks

On April 15, Rev. Benjamin L. Hooks passed away at age 85, leaving behind a legacy of civil rights achievements that spanned a six-decade career.

Among other accomplishments, Rev. Hooks became the first black judge to sit on the bench of a Tennessee state court since Reconstruction. He was also the first black commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, and he served for 15 years as the executive director of the NAACP. More recently, in 2007, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush.

Rev. Hooks' passing in the middle of Fair Housing Month is interesting, considering how much he contributed to fighting housing discrimination across the United States. According to a press release from The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Rev. Hooks helped achieve several key legislative successes while serving as chair, among them the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, which strengthened fair housing enforcement and added disability and familial status as protected classes.

Return tomorrow for the nineteenth part of this special "Fair Housing Month" feature at Fairhousingblog.com.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Fair Housing Month: Another Year, Another Step

Three years ago, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) used Fair Housing Month as an opportunity to reflect on the many steps the United States has taken toward achieving housing equality since the Fair Housing Act (FHA) became law in 1968.

In its brochure, "39 Steps Toward Fair Housing," HUD presents a concise timeline of key issues, cases, developments and achievements that have shaped the path since the FHA's birth (with one step for each year through 2007).

If nothing else, this brief publication reminds us that the FHA wasn't just the end of a long, difficult chapter, but the beginning of a new era that's not without its own set of struggles and challenges.

Return tomorrow for the eighteenth part of this special "Fair Housing Month" feature at Fairhousingblog.com.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Fair Housing Month: Raising Children's Fair Housing Awareness

Each year, many children across the United States experience housing discrimination or witness it occurring in their community.

For example, a child who wants to live in a certain apartment complex but then learns that her parents can't rent there because they have a kid may get upset and even feel guilty. A landlord who steers minority applicants to a certain building in a complex may cause a child to wonder why his friend can't live in one of the vacant apartments on his floor.

To help raise children's awareness and understanding of fair housing, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has created Franklin "The Fair Housing Fox," who offers some answers to questions that may be on children's minds.

If you have kids, consider using Fair Housing Month as an opportunity to show them "10 Things Franklin Wants You to Know."

Return tomorrow for the seventeenth part of this special "Fair Housing Month" feature at Fairhousingblog.com.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Fair Housing Month: Second Announced HUD Charge Spotlights Adoption Rights

Tenants who adopt or plan to adopt a child are protected under the Fair Housing Act's (FHA) ban on familial status discrimination. If you didn't know that, read about the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) second announced charge of Fair Housing Month.

When a single mother renting an apartment outside Philadelphia decided to adopt an 11-year-old boy, her landlords allegedly responded by terminating her tenancy, according to HUD's April 15 release. This caused the family to move far away, denying the boy his school, friends, and aunts whom he visited regularly.

Charged with discrimination, the landlords will need to defend their actions in front of a HUD administrative law judge and possibly face thousands of dollars in damages.

Return tomorrow for the sixteenth part of this special "Fair Housing Month" feature at Fairhousingblog.com.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fair Housing Month: Celebrating by Accommodating

The City of Cambridge, Ohio is commemorating Fair Housing Month by taking action to help make the city more accessible for people with disabilities.

According to a report from WHIZ News, the city's Economic and Community Development Department and Engineer are working on grant-funded projects such as repairing weather-damaged sidewalks across the city that have been rendered unusable for many people with mobility impairments.

The city reportedly aims to finish the improvement projects within the year.

Return tomorrow for the fifteenth part of this special "Fair Housing Month" feature at Fairhousingblog.com.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Fair Housing Month: A Poster's Worth a Thousand Words

Visually capturing the concepts behind equal housing opportunity in a poster has become a popular Fair Housing Month tradition. Many counties, cities, government agencies, schools, and advocacy groups have sponsored Fair Housing Month poster contests or have designed their own to mark the occasion.

The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) has created a Fair Housing Month poster for 2010 that reads, "Your Community Is a Reflection of You: Reflect on the Value of Fair Housing." The imagery is of a diverse neighborhood, creatively revealed from the perspective of a reflection off mirrored sunglasses on a close-up face.

Check out the poster and see how many protected classes you can identify.

To view past years' Fair Housing Month posters from NAR, visit NAR's Fair Housing Resources page.

Return tomorrow for the fourteenth part of this special "Fair Housing Month" feature at Fairhousingblog.com.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Fair Housing Month: Watch HUD's Fair Housing Month Video

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has produced a Fair Housing Month video for 2010. You can watch the video or download a transcript of the video's text as a Word document, courtesy of HUD.gov.

The five-minute video reflects HUD's theme for this year's Fair Housing Month, "Time to Act," and features John Trasviña, the Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, addressing the American public about the current state of fair housing compliance and enforcement efforts.

Forty-two years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act (FHA), Mr. Trasviña says that "the fight to end housing discrimination continues," noting that his office as well as state and local partners receive over 10,000 fair housing complaints each year.

"We have a great deal of work to do," he concludes, including making sure that people across the United States "know their rights and responsibilities."

Return tomorrow for the thirteenth part of this special "Fair Housing Month" feature at Fairhousingblog.com.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Fair Housing Month: 42 Years Ago Today

It was 42 years ago today when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968 into law. Title VIII, commonly known as the Fair Housing Act (FHA), has since enjoyed the distinction of being the primary vehicle through which to seek redress for harm suffered as a result of housing discrimination violations across the United States.

Decades later, it can feel easy to take the FHA and its discrimination bans for granted. But the FHA went on the books at the peak of a turbulent period in American history, and the path toward adopting comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation in the housing arena was a hard-fought battle that involved several generations.

Remember this historic day and its origins by taking a moment to read a "History of Fair Housing," courtesy of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Return tomorrow for the twelfth part of this special "Fair Housing Month" feature at Fairhousingblog.com.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Fair Housing Month: Baltimore Boot Camp Offers Training and Information Exchange

Baltimore Neighborhoods, Inc. (BNI) plans to honor Fair Housing Month with a free "Rental Fair Housing Boot Camp" a week from this Tuesday morning, April 20, at the Baltimore City War Memorial Building. The event, hosted in partnership with several government agencies, aims to keep property managers, fair housing advocates, and other industry professionals current by reviewing fair housing laws as well as topics such as how to file a complaint, common fair housing violations and how to avoid them, popular fair housing misconceptions, and more.

The presentation, which will feature a range of speakers from the public and private sector, will conclude with a "Resource Fair," in which attendees will have the opportunity to exchange materials they own related to fair housing, housing advocacy or programs, tenant and landlord services, and social services.

For more information about the Boot Camp, including a schedule and registration, visit BNI's Events page. Note the registration deadline is this Wednesday, April 14.

Return tomorrow for the eleventh part of this special "Fair Housing Month" feature at Fairhousingblog.com.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Fair Housing Month: Just How Much Do You Know?

What better time than Fair Housing Month to test your knowledge of fair housing law? Several Web sites offer quizzes designed to test your knowledge of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and related issues.

Here's a sampling of these quizzes. Try them out and see how well you do. Good luck!
  1. HUD's Fair Housing Quiz. This 10-question quiz from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is based on a national survey of American adults nine years ago that sought to assess public awareness of and support for fair housing law. The questions are in the true-false format, and you'll find the answer key at the bottom of the page. Take this quiz.

  2. FHRC's Fair Housing Quiz. The Fair Housing Rights Center of Southeastern Pennsylvania (FHRC) offers 14 true-false questions on a range of topics. Answers with helpful explanations follow the questions on the page. Take this quiz.

  3. FHCO's Fair Housing Quiz. The Fair Housing Council of Oregon's (FHCO) quiz reels you in by asking you to decide whether the "Fair" Housing Act is indeed fair. The answer is interesting and might not be what you expect. As you proceed through the nine questions of this true-false quiz, you'll find more helpful explanations along with each answer. Take this quiz.
Return tomorrow for the tenth part of this special "Fair Housing Month" feature at Fairhousingblog.com.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Fair Housing Month: First Announced HUD Charge Covers Most FHA Protected Classes

Yesterday, I blogged about how the Fair Housing Act (FHA) protects people against housing discrimination based on seven so-called "protected classes." In the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) first announced charge of Fair Housing Month, a King County, Washington landlord, property management company, and on-site manger will face an administrative law judge to defend themselves against alleged violations of four of the FHA's seven protected classes: race, color, national origin, and familial status.

According to HUD's Charge of Discrimination, issued on April 1 and announced on April 6, the owners and managers allegedly engaged in a pattern of unfair treatment of blacks, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and families with children at their five-building apartment complex in Renton.

Testers at the property allegedly revealed that the manager:
  • offered the same apartment at a higher rent to black and Hispanic testers than to a white tester;
  • offered earlier availability dates and apartments with newer amenities to white testers as compared to black testers;
  • asked Hispanic applicants if they illegally purchased Social Security cards or green cards;
  • made several discriminatory statements to minority testers, including telling a black tester that she wouldn't tolerate loud parties or "weed smoking on the balcony" and that he was "one of the good ones" because he wears his pants "up on his buttocks";
  • said that children couldn't play ball, skateboard, or ride bicycles on the complex's grounds and would need to go to a park.
HUD's investigation also allegedly found evidence that the manager:
  • directed her staff to show minority applicants apartments with less desirable amenities, such as older carpet, countertops, and appliances;
  • steered minority applicants away from the building in which she lived;
  • banned her assistant from speaking Spanish to Hispanic applicants, saying, "No, no, no. None of that sh*t. We speak English here";
  • told one Asian-American tenant to "go back to India" if he can't use the appliances properly and said to another, "For God's sake, you come from a country with no running water and cook over an open flame."
Return tomorrow for the ninth part of this special "Fair Housing Month" feature at Fairhousingblog.com.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Fair Housing Month: What Are 'Protected Classes'?

Fair Housing Month commemorates the passage of the Fair Housing Act (FHA), a law that protects people against housing discrimination based on certain characteristics, commonly known as "protected classes."

Today, the FHA, as amended, includes seven protected classes:
  • race
  • color
  • religion
  • national origin
  • sex
  • disability
  • familial status
What about other protected classes, such as sexual orientation? What's the difference between race and color? What does familial status cover, exactly?

Get the answers to these and other frequently asked questions on this topic by reading my "Protected Classes FAQ" for About.com.

Return tomorrow for the eighth part of this special "Fair Housing Month" feature at Fairhousingblog.com.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Fair Housing Month: Ohio Workshop Invites Attendees to Experience a Fair Housing Mock Trial

The Miami Valley Fair Housing Center (MVFHC) and the Dayton Area Board of REALTORS® are planning an event this Thursday in Dayton, Ohio to celebrate Fair Housing Month that will include a luncheon, keynote speakers, award presentations, and a fair housing workshop. Rather than just explain what could happen as a result of alleged fair housing violations, participants will get a chance to observe and explore how things could play out, thanks to a mock trial format.

According to the MVFHC's Web site, here's how the mock trial will work:
  • It will be based in part on facts from an actual fair housing case.

  • It will examine one or more legal issues most commonly associated with fair housing compliance, such as steering, occupancy standards, and reasonable accommodation and modification request denials.

  • There will be a presiding judge, with community members and industry players taking on the roles of plaintiffs, defendants, and jurors.

  • All workshop attendees will have an opportunity to participate in the mock trial and ask questions about the issues that arise.

  • During jury deliberations, participants will engage in a discussion of real-life tricky situations, such as how housing professionals should respond to prospects' questions about a community's demographics.
If you're in the Miami Valley, Ohio area and wish to attend, see the Web page (cited above) for complete registration and event information.

Return tomorrow for the seventh part of this special "Fair Housing Month" feature at Fairhousingblog.com.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Fair Housing Month: Kentuckians to 'Get on the Bus' for Fair Housing

Kentucky is honoring Fair Housing Month with a guided bus tour of Frankfort, scheduled for Wednesday, April 28 at 1 p.m. The tour, "Get on the Bus: The Path Toward Housing Opportunities," will focus on the history and impact of segregated housing in the twentieth century and will emphasize the historical and political climate that led to the passage of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and Kentucky's own fair housing law.

According to a press release from event co-host Kentucky Housing Corporation (KHC), the "Get on the Bus" theme evokes the civil rights movement while "The Path Toward Housing Opportunities" reflects the public marches of the time, including one in Frankfort that fair housing advocate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led in 1964.

The Lexington Fair Housing Council and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are co-hosting this event along with KHC.

To sign up for the tour, visit HUD's event page Web site or see the release (cited above) for additional contact information. The event is open to the public, but space is limited.

Return tomorrow for the sixth part of this special "Fair Housing Month" feature at Fairhousingblog.com.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Fair Housing Month: Riverside County Celebrates Fair Housing Month the 'Fair' Way

Could there be a more fitting way to celebrate Fair Housing Month than with a fair?

The Fair Housing Council of Riverside County, Inc. is commemorating the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by hosting a Fair Housing Month Festival at its Riverside office, 3933 Mission Inn Ave., on Saturday, April 17. The event, which is open to the public, will offer free food, children's games, a fire engine, and booths with representatives from housing-related organizations.

Perhaps most enticing of all, however, is a free drawing for a prize worth $500 in rent plus one month's paid utility bills.

Return tomorrow for the fifth part of this special "Fair Housing Month" feature at Fairhousingblog.com.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Fair Housing Month: Colorado's Fair Housing Claim to Fame

Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, Jr. is one of several government leaders to sign a proclamation declaring April 2010 to be "Fair Housing Month" in his state. In doing so, he noted "the great strides our state and nation have made toward breaking down barriers which impede the rights of all citizens."

If you study the proclamation, you'll notice that Mr. Ritter didn't wait until April to introduce the document (unlike the case with last year's proclamation), but had it signed, sealed, and delivered back on January 27.

The governor's early action on this matter is reminiscent of his state's own fair housing history. In 1959, Colorado became the first state to ban discrimination in private housing. So, by the time the United States caught up with the passage of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) in 1968, landlords in the Centennial State had already amassed nearly a decade of compliance experience.

Interesting to note:

Return tomorrow for the fourth part of this special "Fair Housing Month" feature at Fairhousingblog.com.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Fair Housing Month: HUD Declares 2010 a 'Time to Act'

In a press release issued yesterday at the start of Fair Housing Month, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that the theme for this year's activities is "Fair Housing in 2010: Time to Act," reflecting the "urgent need" to prevent housing discrimination across the United States.

John Trasviña, Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at HUD, put it into historical context: "In the aftermath of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in April 1968, President Johnson moved for passage of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) to bring the nation forward and together," he said. "Since then, we have made progress but there remains work to be done. It is time to act."

Indeed, progress can be measured by the many apartment hunters, tenants, and others who, thanks to the passage of the FHA, received compensation after complaining of housing injustices. The subsequent amendments to the FHA adding sex, then disability and familial status as protected classes are also widely cited as progressive landmarks.

Assuming Mr. Trasviña is right, then just how much progress have we made since 1968, and how much work remains to be done?

What do you think?

Return tomorrow for the third part of this special "Fair Housing Month" feature at Fairhousingblog.com.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Fair Housing Month: Why April Is Fair Housing Month

April is Fair Housing Month, and Fair Housing Blog by Fair Housing Helper is honoring the occasion by publishing a new post for each day of the month. Let's start this series with a few words on what Fair Housing Month is all about, and why it's April.

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) became law in April 1968, as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (CRA). President Johnson made it official on April 11, one week after the assassination of civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr., who fought for equality in housing.

The FHA was considered landmark legislation, prohibiting many types of discriminatory acts regarding the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, color, religion, and national origin. The FHA has since been amended to add sex, disability, and familial status to the list of protected classes, as well as to strengthen the law's enforcement mechanism.

Since 1968, April has come to be regarded as a time to remember the FHA and reflect on the rights it gives citizens. Presidents of the United States and governors have issued proclamations over the years declaring April to be "Fair Housing Month." In addition, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which has primary authority for enforcing the FHA, as well as several housing advocacy groups, professional real estate organizations, and schools have sponsored events and poster and essay contests, and have launched awareness campaigns during April to commemorate the historical passage of this major legislation and increase the public's understanding of its many protections.

Return tomorrow for the second part of this special "Fair Housing Month" feature at Fairhousingblog.com.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Veteran Soldiers On in Fair Housing Disability Battle Against Landlord

A Vietnam War veteran wanted to keep a dog in his Highland, New York apartment to control the anxiety and fears he still encounters as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and seizure disorder. After obtaining a doctor's note recommending the dog, the tenant requested that his landlord make an exception to the building's no-pets policy.

Although the landlord acknowledged that he had heard of dogs helping people with seizures, he refused to grant the tenant's request. The landlord explained that if the tenant needs a dog, he should live in a building that allows dogs. No animals means no animals, he insisted.

But federal law says otherwise, as the landlord is no doubt learning. While the landlord's no-pets policy may be perfectly legal as written, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) requires him to grant tenants' requests to keep an animal as a reasonable accommodation for a disability.

Not giving up, the tenant complained about the landlord to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the New York State Division of Human Rights. He tried again to explain to the landlord that he needed a specially trained dog as a reasonable accommodation for a legitimate disability.

But the landlord once more denied the tenant's request, unconvinced by the allegations in the housing discrimination complaints lodged against him. Plus, in an apparent act of retaliation, the landlord allegedly ordered the tenant, who was living in the apartment on a month-to-month basis, to look for new housing.

HUD this month issued a Charge of Discrimination against the landlord, declaring that the landlord violated the FHA's ban on disability-based discrimination. An administrative law judge (ALJ) will hear the case and may award damages, attorneys' fees, civil penalties (of up to $16,000 per violation), and other relief.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tell HUD What You Think About LGBT Discrimination

You may recall reading my February 27, 2010 blog post about the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) new plans to collect data on the state of sexual orientation discrimination across the United States. With a goal of determining who would make good testers for LGBT discrimination, HUD decided an effective starting point would be to get input from people living in Chicago, New York, and San Francisco — cities that currently ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Following recent town hall meetings in these three cities, HUD has announced it's now soliciting feedback from people across the United States on its LGBT discrimination study. If you have ideas on what a tester should do to signal to a landlord that the individual or a couple is LGBT, HUD wants to hear about it.

You can send HUD a comment through its online suggestion box on LGBT discrimination.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Is a Bachelor Pad Illegal?

The bachelor pad is alive and well, not to mention legal. But landlords, take note: Advertising an apartment as a bachelor pad is a different story.

Controversy arose a year ago when someone at the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center spotted a Craigslist advertisement promoting a Dayton, Ohio apartment as "a great bachelor pad for any single man looking to hook up," according to the Dayton Daily News.

It wasn't exactly the ad's evocation of a certain lifestyle (posted by a company that boasts 53 properties in six metropolitan areas and $1 billion in assets) that concerned the Center, but the wording, which appeared to smack of discrimination. The Center perceived a strong preference for men without children, which would appear to violate the Fair Housing Act's (FHA) discrimination bans based on sex and familial status.

In May, the Center pursued the matter by filing a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). After reviewing the ad, HUD issued a finding of probable cause in November.

On Friday, March 5, after uncovering more allegedly discriminatory ads from the same owner/manager, the Center took the case to the next level and filed a federal discrimination lawsuit. If the court agrees with the Center's arguments, it may award over $25,000 in compensatory and punitive damages, plus attorneys' fees and other relief, as requested.

Is this "bachelor pad ad" a clear-cut case of discrimination that unfairly limits choices for women and families with children? Or is it a harmless attempt to inject an image of fun into an apartment hunter's mind? Should the actual intent of the owner/manager make a difference?

What do you think?

Sunday, February 28, 2010

'Victim Fair Housing Act' Aims to Distinguish Between Undesirable Tenants and Innocent Victims

Each year, it's estimated that millions of men and women in the United States fall victim to domestic violence. When such a victim lives in rental housing, a violent incident or series of incidents could force the tenant onto the street. Not all landlords are interested in distinguishing between perpetrator and victim but simply view violent acts on the premises as a ground for eviction. As a result, a tenant who becomes a domestic violence victim often suffers in a second way, losing her home due to circumstances beyond her control.

Wisconsin has decided to legislate a hopeful end to this nightmare by passing a "Victim Fair Housing Act." The Act, which went on the books earlier this month, amends the state's fair housing law to ban housing discrimination based on someone's "status as a victim of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking." Most importantly, the law offers such victims a defense against eviction, according to a report from The Post-Crescent.

Are you in favor of Wisconsin's legislative measure, and do you think it will prove effective in addressing this issue? Should the federal Fair Housing Act be amended to protect victims of domestic violence from losing their housing?

What do you think?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

HUD Asks Chicago, New York, and San Francisco for LGBT Testing Ideas

When an agency wants to send fair housing testers to a property, it's usually easy to pick suitable people to fill the role. For instance, to test for racial discrimination, agencies send white and minority testers and then compare their notes. If it's disability discrimination at issue, testers with and without a noticeable disability are dispatched to check for bias.

But what about finding appropriate people to test for discrimination based on sexual orientation? Because sexual orientation isn't one of the Fair Housing Act (FHA)'s protected classes, testing for this type of discrimination hasn't been performed by a federal agency, and no organization to date has attempted to test for sexual orientation discrimination in housing on a national scale.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) wants to change that, having recently announced plans to collect data on the state of sexual orientation discrimination across the United States. According to a report from BusinessWeek, HUD will first seek input from people living in Chicago, New York, and San Francisco — three cities that currently ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity — to help determine who would make good testers, what they should say, and how they should act to get landlords to express their bias, if any exists.

What's your advice to HUD? How can testers for sexual orientation discrimination be most effective? Also, do you think such a housing study is long overdue, or is it an unnecessary expenditure of taxpayer money?

What do you think?

How Accommodating Is an Accessible, But Not a Designated, Parking Spot?

Many retail centers, office buildings, and even residential buildings offer accessible parking spots for visitors with disabilities. Of course, such spots are normally available on a first-come, first-served basis to visitors, which means there's no guaranty a visitor who needs an accessible spot will be able to find one.

What if you're not a visitor, but you own a home in a multifamily building with a parking lot? Is it reasonable for a housing provider to offer an accessible parking spot to such a person, but tell her it can't be reserved?

A condo owner with a mobility impairment in Puerto Rico says such an arrangement is both unreasonable and illegal. She's pursuing a fair housing claim against the condo's developer/manager, alleging that the company's denial of a designated accessible parking spot violates the Fair Housing Act's (FHA) ban on disability-based discrimination.

The FHA requires housing providers to consider requests for reasonable accommodations from residents who need changes to rules, policies, or procedures on account of a disability. If a provider believes an accommodation would be unreasonable, it may propose an alternative. But the condo developer's idea to offer the accessible parking spot to the owner on a first-come, first-served basis doesn't cut it, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) Charge of Discrimination, issued on February 19 and announced on February 24.

The owner's original assigned spots are some 238 feet away from her apartment. In addition to her having difficulty traveling that length on foot, the owner must cross oncoming traffic to reach her spots. In contrast, the accessible spot that the owner would like to have designated for her exclusive use is situated only 103 feet away — out of traffic and on an accessible route that offers support railings.

A HUD administrative law judge will hear the case. Among other things, the owner seeks a civil penalty plus damages for emotional distress, including embarrassment and humiliation, inconvenience, and economic loss caused by the developer's alleged discriminatory conduct.

If a resident requests an accessible parking spot as a reasonable accommodation for a disability, is it ever reasonable for the housing provider to offer such a spot on a first-come, first served basis?

What do you think?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

New Funding Announcement Puts FHIP in Spotlight

When reading about fair housing enforcement, you've probably come across the term "FHIP" but may not know exactly what it means. These letters stand for the Fair Housing Initiatives Program, which was established by the Housing and Community Development Act of 1987, as amended by the Housing and Community Development Act of 1992.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced on January 21 that it awarded $26.3 million under the FHIP to 98 fair housing organizations and other non-profit agencies in 37 states and the District of Columbia.

What's all this money used for?

HUD funds fair housing organizations and other non-profits through the FHIP to provide direct assistance to people who believe they've been the victims of Fair Housing Act (FHA) violations. The recipient organizations help people identify government agencies that handle complaints of housing discrimination, and conduct preliminary investigation of claims (including sending testers to the properties in question).

In addition, the FHIP promotes fair housing laws and equal opportunity awareness through four initiatives. One of the initiatives, the Administrative Enforcement Initiative (AEI), helps state and local governments that administer laws similar to the FHA establish projects that broaden an agency's range of enforcement and compliance activities. According to HUD, there are currently no funds available for the AEI initiative.

The other three initiatives provide funds and competitive grants to organizations that qualify:

  1. The Fair Housing Organizations Initiative (FHOI). The FHOI provides funds to help non-profit fair housing organizations handle fair housing enforcement and education initiatives more effectively. HUD recently announced that it awarded $21.1 million in grants under the FHOI this year.

  2. The Private Enforcement Initiative (PEI). The PEI offers a range of assistance to the nationwide network of fair housing groups. This initiative funds non-profit fair housing organizations to carry out testing and enforcement activities to prevent or eliminate discriminatory housing practices. HUD recently announced that it awarded $3.1 million in grants under the PEI this year.

  3. The Education and Outreach Initiative (EOI). The EOI provides funding to state and local government agencies and non-profit organizations for initiatives that bring awareness and understanding to equal opportunity in housing means and that increase housing providers' familiarity with FHA compliance. HUD recently announced that it awarded $2.1 million in grants under the EOI this year.

Do you think the FHIP funds go to a worthy cause? Is $26.3 million too much or too little?

What do you think?

Monday, January 18, 2010

On MLK Day, Considering the Future of the Fair Housing Act

Today, the United States celebrates the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., whose work as a civil rights leader led to the passage of Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, also known as the Fair Housing Act (FHA). President Lyndon Johnson signed the Act into law on April 11, 1968, one week after Dr. King's assassination.

As originally passed, the FHA banned discrimination based on four protected classes — race, color, religion, and national origin. The Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 added sex to the list, and the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 brought the number of protected classes to seven, with the addition of familial status and handicap (more commonly referred to as "disability").

For the past roughly 22 years, the number of protected classes under the FHA has remained at seven. Will the FHA ever be amended again to add more protected classes? If so, which ones, and when? Should the FHA be amended?

What do you think?

Friday, January 15, 2010

LANDMARK: $7.4 Million Retrofitting Is Part of Largest Fair Housing Disability Settlement

Fair housing cases involving retrofitting come with great frustration. It's not just that the needed changes are often costly, but it's the notion that the expenses — not to mention the underlying inaccessibility problem — could have been avoided had the building's owner and architect been aware of (and taken seriously) all applicable accessibility laws.

Here's how retrofitting cases usually play out:

  1. A building constructed for first occupancy after March 13, 1991 that was supposed to have been built in compliance with the Fair Housing Act's (FHA) design and construction requirements wasn't.

  2. Tenants with mobility impairments who live in the building struggle to enjoy their apartment living, having difficulty with basic activities such as navigating through their apartments and accessing outlets and switches.

  3. The tenants bring a fair housing complaint against the owners for violating the FHA's ban on disability-based discrimination.

  4. The court finds in favor of the tenants and, in addition to assessing damages and other penalties, orders the owners to retrofit the building to get it in compliance.

On Wednesday, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) and its member fair housing organizations announced a record settlement with California-based A.G. Spanos Companies ("Spanos"), the nation's fifth-largest housing developer.

Within three years, Spanos has agreed to retrofit 12,300 units in 82 buildings in 14 states — at an estimated cost of $7.4 million. The number of buildings would have been 123, but 41 Spanos-owned buildings have too many complications to undergo retrofitting. Instead, Spanos has agreed to commit $4.2 million over five years to a national accessibility fund, aimed at offering retrofitting grants for apartments across the United States.

On top of the retrofitting, Spanos has agreed to pay $1.325 million in attorneys' fees, $950,000 in compensatory damages, $750,000 for the establishment of local retrofit funds, $100,000 toward a national media campaign, and $40,000 for the creation of an accessibility coalition.

The settlement is considered a record for fair housing accessibility. Click here for a full summary of the settlement, courtesy of the NFHA.

Interesting to note:

  • Spanos was reportedly "shocked" to learn that the buildings weren't built in compliance with the FHA's design and construction requirements. According to a report from the San Diego Union Tribune, the company claims to have hired and relied on competent architects and other professionals to ensure compliance with all applicable laws, but they apparently dropped the ball.

  • Alex Spanos, who founded A.G. Spanos Construction in 1960, has owned the San Diego Chargers since 1984 and formed the Chargers Community Foundation in 1995.