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.

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.