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.

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?