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, September 27, 2011

Landlord Puts No-Pets Policy Above the Law

Many landlords have a no-pets policy at their properties, or they have rules limiting the types of pets allowed. This is perfect legal. However, what many landlords don't know is that they must let tenants keep service animals in their apartments when needed as a reasonable accommodation for a disability. This means their policy is still valid, but they should be prepared to make an exception, if warranted, to comply with the Fair Housing Act's (FHA) ban against disability-based discrimination.

Landlords who aren't familiar with the FHA's reasonable accommodations requirement or who don't understand how it may affect their pet policy often go head-to-head with prospects and tenants, insisting on what they believe are their rights while getting themselves deeper into fair housing trouble.

A recent example shows how this plays out.

The owner and manager of a trailer park in Lakeland, Washington advertised apartments with a no-pets policy. A local non-profit fair housing organization sent testers posing as prospects who need service dogs for a disability respond to the ad. More than once, the owner told the testers no dogs are allowed. After the testers explained the dogs were service animals and needed a reasonable accommodation, the owner and manager still refused. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) Charge of Discrimination, the manager argued that "if one tenant has an animal everyone will want one" and also expressed concern that animals will destroy the property.

The owner and manager will now have a chance to argue their case in from of a HUD administrative law judge.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Single Mom Told Only a Man Can Shovel Snow

A La Crosse County, Wisconsin landlord is facing discrimination charges after telling a single female prospect she was ineligible to rent a two-bedroom modular single-family house in a cattle farm with her child because her household is missing a man.

The landlord, a woman, expressed her opinions on single women several times to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), saying she never rents to them, "especially not in the country." She insisted that a single woman can't handle the seclusion of the rural community and the snow removal during "brutal" winters, and also didn't want a tenant calling her repeatedly to plow her out or make repairs. Not renting the house to a single woman with a child at the property was "just common sense," she concluded.

In light of these statements and the landlord's subsequent rental of the property to two men, HUD issued a Charge of Discrimination based on sex and familial status. An administrative law judge is expected to hear the case.

If you've been following this blog, you may recall reading a few years ago about a similar case in Idaho, in which a property manager settled with the government after denying housing to a single mother on the insistence that a man was needed to mow the lawn. (See "Requiring Men to Mow the Lawn Doesn't Cut It," September 16, 2008.)

The lesson from these cases to housing providers is, as HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity John TrasviƱa put it:
Fairness dictates, and the Fair Housing Act requires, that housing decisions not be based on outmoded stereotypes of people’s "place" in our society. HUD will enforce the law whenever a housing provider seeks to limit a woman’s housing choices because of her gender or family composition.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Landlord Apparently More Afraid of 'Too Many Blacks' Than Discrimination Charges

When an interracial couple wanted to rent a house in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, the landlord welcomed them and signed a one-year lease. But when the couple informed the landlord they needed to move and presented a black family to sublease the house, he balked.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) Charge of Discrimination, the landlord asked the couple if the prospects were white. After learning he would be renting to a black family, the landlord allegedly stated that he “did not want too many blacks at the property” while expressing concern that “the neighbors would not want to see too many blacks there.”

The landlord rejected the prospects and refused to return the couple's security deposit or provide an explanation after they moved out.

A HUD administrative law judge is expected to hear the case to determine if the landlord should be held liable for violating the Fair Housing Act's (FHA) discrimination ban based on race, color, and national origin.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Landlords Gave Girl With Cerebral Palsy Two Options: Bad and Worse

For a divorced Iowa mother caring for a daughter with cerebral palsy, there were two options: 1) pay an additional $200 security deposit, plus $25 extra in rent each month, or 2) give up your apartment.

Why the options after the family had already been living in their apartment for months? The mother thought a Labrador retriever would provide needed assistance and stress reduction to the seven-year-old girl. Her pediatrician agreed and wrote a letter to the family's landlords to support their request for a reasonable accommodation to the landlords' no-pets rule.

However, the landlords refused to accommodate the girl's disability in this way, prompting the family to move out of the building to an apartment with a higher rent, located much farther away from the girl's school.

The mother complained to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which brought a fair housing complaint against the landlords and issued a Charge of Discrimination. A HUD administrative law judge is expected to hear the case.