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, 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?