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, February 28, 2011

Invalid Reasons for Denying Modification/Accommodation Requests - Part 2

Here's another recent example of an owner or property manager denying a modification/accommodation request for an invalid reason. Unlike the first example, however, this owner appears to have tried to comply with relevant laws, but his research efforts came up short.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) Charge of Discrimination of February 9, 2011, the owner and manager of an Oyster Bay, New York coop repeatedly denied a resident's request for an assigned accessible parking space. The resident, who suffers from neuropathy and can't walk long distances, claimed he needed the space as a reasonable accommodation for his disability.

After the resident was not allowed to reserve one of the two designated accessible parking spaces closest to the entrance, he had to compete for an accessible space with other residents or park further away from his apartment.

The owner and manager denied the resident's request, claiming that they were "in full compliance with local codes regarding handicap parking." That may be, but they apparently were unaware of the Fair Housing Act's requirement to consider accommodation requests from residents — and grant them if they're reasonable.

Invalid Reasons for Denying Modification/Accommodation Requests - Part 1

There are valid reasons why an owner or property manager may deny a tenant's modification request. For example, if a tenant doesn't have a disability, if the requested modification isn't related to the disability, or if it's just not reasonable, the law should support a denial.

But sometimes modification requests get denied for reasons that amount to a violation of the Fair Housing Act's (FHA) ban on disability-based discrimination. Very often, the owners or property managers who make such denials believe they're acting within their rights and later are surprised to learn that their policy justifying the denials isn't legal.

Two recent examples show how this plays out.

A tenant at a Boston apartment building requested modifications to her apartment's bathroom and doors, claiming she needed them because of a disability. The property management company denied the modification request, citing a (clearly discriminatory) policy of not accepting tenants with disabilities at the building, according to a report from The Milford Daily News. Following a 2009 complaint from the Massachusetts Attorney General's office, the management company agreed Wednesday to settle the matter.

Read another example in the next blog entry.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

HUD Adopts Stronger Stance Against Domestic Violence

Tenants who are denied or evicted from housing as a result of domestic violence may have grounds to file a discrimination complaint under the Fair Housing Act, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the primary federal agency charged with enforcing the FHA.

HUD recently issued guidance in the form of a memorandum to FHEO headquarters and field staff, pointing out that while the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) offers some protections to victims of abuse who experience housing discrimination, the FHA authorizes HUD to investigate whether a tenant's denial or eviction violates the FHA because of discrimination based on sex or another protected class.

In its guidance, HUD suggests that the following examples may yield a viable claim under the FHA:
  • A landlord who refuses to accept women with a history of domestic violence because they may return to abusive men;

  • A landlord who evicts women for the violent acts of their abusers; and

  • A "zero-tolerance" policy for criminal activity, under which an entire household may be evicted for the criminal act of one member, as it may have a disparate impact on women because they are the overwhelming majority of domestic violence victims.
Do you believe this new guidance will help protect domestic violence victims from losing their homes? What more, if anything, should the government do to achieve this goal?

What do you think?