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, December 31, 2010

NAR Bars Sexual Orientation Discrimination... Is Congress Next?

It may not be unlawful for members of the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) to discriminate based on sexual orientation (that depends on state and local law), but members who do engage in such housing practices now run afoul of their own ethical code.

In a ballot vote weighted by size of local association conducted on November 9, an amendment to bar sexual orientation discrimination passed by 93%, according to a report from REALTOR® Magazine.

For the first time, the REALTORS® Code of Ethics includes a protected class that's not a part of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). When this issue was raised among the delegates, one delegate reportedly justified the move by pointing out that the Code's purpose is to hold NAR members to a higher standard.

Do you agree? Do you think such a development is a sign that similar legislative changes are around the corner?

What do you think?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Will the HOME Act Become Law in 2011? Should It?

A bill by the House introduced earlier this month promises to "modernize" the Fair Housing Act (FHA) if passed, supporters say.

H.R. 6500, known as the Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) Act, would greatly expand federal protections against housing discrimination across the United States.

In its current form, the HOME Act would:
  • add sexual orientation, gender identity, source of income, and marital status as protected classes;

  • reinforce existing protections for people who are discriminated against after they have already rented or purchased a home;

  • allow the public to hold municipalities accountable for failing to advance fair housing laws;

  • expand the definition of "familial status" to include "anyone standing in loco parentis" of a child under 18 years of age;

  • improve the Department of Justice's (DOJ) ability to investigate potential fair housing and fair lending violations; and

  • clarify and strengthen protections for people with disabilities.
For more information about the HOME Act, take a look at this excellent section-by-section commentary by the National Fair Housing Alliance.

Do you think the HOME Act will become law in 2011? Should it? Do you agree with the law's supporters that it's time to modernize the FHA?

What do you think?

LANDMARK: Reasonable Accommodation Denial Leads to Record Settlement

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Monday that it has obtained the largest-ever settlement in connection with an individual housing discrimination case. The $1.25 million agreement with an Alabama property management company stems from a tenant's request for a reasonable accommodation, which the company allegedly denied.

What's interesting about this case is how a single denial of an accommodation request could wind up costing a management company so dearly. The reason? The tenant allegedly suffered severe damages as a direct result of the denial.

According to the first amended complaint filed March 17, 2009, the tenant requested to rent a ground-floor apartment in the 196-unit Mobile, Alabama non-elevator building to accommodate a physical disability. Although he needed to use full-length leg braces and crutches on account of paraplegia, he was offered an apartment on the second floor with the understanding that he would soon be transferred to a ground-floor unit. In the meantime, the apartment's small size meant the tenant had to keep his physical therapy equipment in storage on the ground floor.

Despite several follow-up requests and apparent promises, the company didn't allow the tenant to transfer to the ground floor, at one point citing a new rule barring all transfers, according to the complaint.

In November 2007, the tenant fell down the stairs from his second-floor apartment, requiring surgery and the need for a wheelchair.

Without admitting liability or wrongdoing, the company agreed Monday to pay $1,195,000 in monetary damages to the tenant, plus $55,000 in fees and costs to the federal government for the alleged Fair Housing Act violation based on disability.

In addition to the record monetary award and penalty, the consent decree requires the company to obtain fair housing training for employees and monitor their compliance, maintain non-discriminatory practices and procedures, and appoint an employee as "Reasonable Accommodation Facilitator," charged with managing all new requests at the more than 11,000 units in 85 properties across 15 states that the company manages.

Given the facts, do you think this settlement is fair? Do you believe landlords and property management companies need to become more aware of how the law protects people with disabilities?

What do you think?