Fair Housing vs. Unfair Housing

Do you know the difference?

Knowing the difference between fair housing and unfair housing isn't as obvious as you might think. This blog aims to present a variety of important and interesting fair housing issues.

If you're an apartment professional, avoid costly mistakes by reading the stories of others who — even with good intentions — learned compliance lessons the hard way. (For the easy way, click here.)

If you live in an apartment, get familiar with your rights when it comes to housing discrimination, as well as your options for seeking justice.

Monday, 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.