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 30, 2011

HUD Issues Annual Report Detailing Enforcement Activity

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released its Annual Fair Housing Report, which provides details and insight into the types of complaints filed under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) for FY 2010 (October 1, 2009 through September 30, 2010).

For the fifth consecutive year, the number of fair housing complaints topped 10,000. (See "Government Fair Housing Report Shows Disability Continues to Top Complaint List" and "2008 Fair Housing Complaints Break Record.")

According to the report, 10,155 fair housing discrimination complaints were filed with HUD and its Fair Housing Assistance Program (FHAP) partner agencies over this period. As in recent years, disability topped the list as the basis of the complaints, at 48%, while 34% involved claims based on race and 15% on familial status.

The report also reveals that HUD and its FHAP partner agencies processed 4,494 new complaints within 100 days -- 328 more than in 2009 and 583 more than in 2008. In addition, HUD pursued its own Secretary-initiated investigations over the fiscal year, resulting in four charges and eight conciliation agreements, and filed 10 new complaints.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Bronx Tale of Denial, Then Harrassment

Many apartment residents need to have a change made to a policy or practice as an accommodation for a disability. Owners must consider all such "reasonable accommodation" requests, then grant them if there's evidence that the resident has a qualifying disability under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and needs the accommodation for that disability, and if the request is reasonable.

A new Charge brought by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) against a New York City cooperative claims that not only did the cooperative wrongfully deny a resident's request to keep an emotional support animal (despite a no-pets policy), but the cooperative harassed the resident because of it.

According to the Charge, the cooperative refused to accept the resident’s rent payments, threatened to suspend his garage privileges, and attempted to evict him from his apartment. In addition, the cooperative's security director allegedly didn't stop his officers from harassing the resident and his wife for keeping the service animal, even after the tenant specifically asked him to do so.

A HUD administrative law judge is expected to hear the case.

Interesting to note:
  • The cooperative, known as "Co-op City" and located in the Bronx, has 15,372 apartments in 35 high-rise buildings and seven townhouse clusters, housing roughly 50,000 low- and middle-income residents.

  • The cooperative appears to have been familiar with the FHA's requirement, having given the resident its own "Application for Reasonable Accommodation of Dog Application Form" to complete.

  • According to the Charge, the cooperative stopped contesting the dog's presence on account of New York City's three-month waiver rule. Read my About.com article for more information on this rule.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Landlord's 'Winter Special' Draws Unexpected Response

A Pennsylvania landlord's advertisement for a low rent on an apartment was an attention-grabber, but not for the reason he hoped.

The Craigslist ad, entitled "Winter Special Price for Two Adults," got the owner of four multifamily buildings containing 91 apartments into hot water because it appears to indicate a preference for renters who do not have children, in violation of the Fair Housing Act's (FHA) ban on discrimination based on familial status.

The Fair Housing Council of Suburban Philadelphia (FHCSP) filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which has issed a Charge of Discrimination following an investigation that uncovered evidence that the landlord charges same-size households more rent if one of the occupants is a child.

For example, the landlord told an FHCSP tester she would have to pay $35-per-month above the advertised price for a two-bedroom apartment because of her preschool-age son. When another tester asked if having a child would pose a problem, the landlord explained, "It's just going to be higher," according to the Charge.

A HUD administrative law judge is expected to hear the case.

Interesting to note:
  • In addition to a claim of direct discrimination, HUD is claiming that the landlord's offering of more favorable rental terms to households that have only one or two people is discriminatory because it has a "disparate impact" on families with children, arguing that they usually make up larger households.
Do you agree with the "disparate impact" argument? In other words, do you think this landlord should be held liable for familial-status-based discrimination even if he didn't limit the special to "two adults"?

What do you think?