Answers to Questions We Get in Fair Housing
Question #1: My husband and I have two children. We have a chance to rent a large home and my adult sister has to move in with us. There’s plenty of room, but the homeowners’ group has a 4-person rule. I think it violates the Fair Housing Act.
AVERY: “You may be right. In Arcadia, California nearly the same thing happened. The association barred the adult sister because it claimed it was she – not the children – that put the family over the 4-person limit in the 2,000 square foot home. The federal judge said no, that the broad interpretation to which the Fair Housing Act is entitled was essentially unconcerned whether it was the adult or children that exceeded the 4-person limit. The ruling sent the case to trial.”
Question #2: We live in New Hampshire. I noticed that a company was advertising “specials” for apartments in the paper this weekend. My friend went out there and was quoted one rent. I was quoted a higher rent at the same building later. Doesn’t that violate the Fair Housing Act?
AVERY: “It might. First, if the difference between you and your friend is race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status and/or handicap and all this happened in a fairly close period of time, it looks like the company could be in trouble. I’m not sure what the nondiscriminatory explanation the company is going to give, but it will be hard pressed to explain why you were offered different prices.”
Question #3: I recently moved to a small town in New Mexico and was denied the chance to buy a home and I think it was because of my race. I really don’t have money to hire a lawyer and I understand fair housing law is somewhat specialized anyhow, so I don’t think I’ll be able to get assistance in this. Am I out of luck?
AVERY: “Far from it! Congress has offered victims of housing bias choices and it shouldn’t cost you anything. Call the Housing Discrimination Hotline at 1-800-669-9777 (TDD Line is 1-800-927-9275) to find out the nearest agency where you can file and have the case investigated. And, listen to this, you can hire a lawyer at the same time if you want to go directly to federal court for emergency relief. Good fair housing lawyers generally won’t charge. Why? If you prevail, the other side has to pay the fees.”
Question #4: I have a chance to rent a condo in Oregon from the owners of my unit who live in a different state. They warned me that, although they don’t discriminate, the neighboring owners don’t like children and I could be in for trouble. I want this place, but if there’s difficulty because they don’t like children, can the Fair Housing Act offer me protection?
AVERY: “I don’t know (and I don’t care) if the owners genuinely had your interests at heart when they warned you about the neighbors. Under the Fair Housing Act, the owners (who have an undivided ownership interest in the condo) and the neighbors may all have fair housing problems. The Fair Housing Act should offer you protection.”
Question #5: Avery, I had no problem getting my apartment, but now that I’m in, the owner has been showing a little more personal interest toward me than I care to have. Other females in the building have also commented about his behavior including inappropriate language towards them and, in some instances, actual touching. And you can bet he doesn’t act this way around men. He’s an older man, but I don’t like it and I don’t want to get evicted for complaining. What can I do?
AVERY: “The same situation arose in Ohio not too long ago and women residents got together to do something about it. They were able to prove sexual demands and other untoward actions by the owner. The owner recently filed bankruptcy after the verdict and fines against him totaled $570,000.00.”
Question #6: Avery, under federal fair employment law, I understand that there may be no personal liability for sexual harassment against a co-worker who is my immediate superior, but against the company. In my apartment, though, it’s the superintendent who is harassing me because of my sex. Under the Fair Housing Act, I know the company may be responsible, but I want to do something about the employee. Can the Fair Housing Act help me?
AVERY: “Yes, and you are right, Title VII, the employment law, is probably not going to help you establish personal liability against your immediate boss. But Title VIII, the Fair Housing Act, is different. Unlike Title VII, Title VIII generally makes the wrongdoer responsible, whether or not the individual works for a particular company. In your case, both the superintendent and his company should be on the line.”
Question #7: I’ve never had a problem getting a place to live. I went in and the rental agent told me she had three units available. When my boyfriend came in later, she saw he was African-American and – all of a sudden – suites weren’t available. Now I know this wasn’t happening because of me, but because of my boyfriend. Do I have fair housing rights?
AVERY: “You sure do. It doesn’t matter what color you are. It matters if color is a reason. Since a 1972 Supreme Court ruling, indirect victims of housing discrimination have claims under the Fair Housing Act. This law covers everything that stands in the way of equal opportunity and applies whether or not the housing provider intended to discriminate.”
Question #8: I got laid off from my job and fell behind in my mortgage payments so the bank started foreclosure. I understand that I can’t live in a house and skip my obligation to pay, but another guy on my block who financed his house with the same bank got laid off with me and, guess what, the bank is forebearing and hasn’t started foreclosure against him. The only difference between us is a race. Am I covered?
AVERY: “You bet you are. The Fair Housing Act doesn’t stop when you get into a house. It covers everything relating to housing including lending and bank practices. Your situation is expressly covered.”