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, 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.