The Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) was enacted during the Civil Rights Movement following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 5, 1968. This is why April has been designated as the month when we remember the FHA. It is a federal law, intended to limit discriminatory practices in the sale and rental of housing and ensure equal access to homeownership, regardless of class.
The states have adopted similar acts. In 1989, South Carolina adopted the Fair Housing Law (S.C. Code §§ 31-21-10, et. seq), and it largely parrots the language of the FHA.
The FHA covers most housing, however, some groups may be exempt, such as, Single-family homes that are rented or sold without using a broker; Owner-occupied homes with no more than four units; Members-only private clubs or organizations.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), examples of discriminatory practices include: imposing different prices for the sale or rental of a dwelling; delaying or failing to perform maintenance or repairs for certain renters; or limiting privileges, services, or facilities of a dwelling because of certain characteristics a person might have. People who share a characteristic covered by the FHA are members of what are called “protected classes.”
2. Protected classes
The FHA promotes our national policy that discrimination in housing based on certain characteristics is abhorrent to a civilized society. Thus, the Act protects members of seven classes – race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status.
In its original form, The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibited discrimination in housing based only on race, religion, national origin or sex.
In 1988, Congress passed Amendments to the Act which expanded the law to prohibit discrimination based on disability or on family status.
We can get a better understanding of the Act by taking a closer look at how it functions in specific areas. Let’s take a closer look at how the Act protects families and persons with disabilities.
3. Familial status
Unless a building or complex qualifies as housing for older persons, the landlord may not discriminate based on familial status. That is, she may not discriminate against families in which one or more children live with a parent or someone acting as a parent. Familial status protection also applies to pregnant women.
Some examples of protections of this class would include: A person cannot be evicted from housing because they have a child; Families cannot be restricted to one area of a building or complex; and, rules cannot unfairly target children such as, a landlord cannot forbid children from a common area that adults are permitted use. Advertisements cannot state that children are not wanted or that the property is restricted only to adults (unless it’s seniors-only housing).
4. Reasonable accommodations
The FHA is the core law ensuring that disabled individuals have access to housing enabling them to enjoy housing to the same extent as a non-disabled person. The Act requires all “covered multifamily dwellings” designed and constructed after March 13, 1991, to be readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities.
Some of the accessible features required by the Act include; 1. Accessible building entrance on an accessible route. 2. Accessible and usable public and common use areas. 3. Usable doors. 4. Accessible route into and through the covered dwelling unit. 5. Light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other environmental controls
in accessible locations. 6. Reinforced walls for grab bars. 7. Usable kitchens and bathrooms.
If someone has a disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities, the landlord may not refuse to let them make reasonable modifications to the dwelling or common use areas, at the tenant’s expense. And the landlord may not refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services if necessary, for the disabled person to use the housing.
Examples: A building with a “no pets” policy must allow a visually impaired tenant to keep a guide dog. An apartment complex that offers tenants ample, unassigned parking must honor a request from a mobility-impaired tenant for a reserved space near her apartment so she can have access to her apartment.
5. Federal Enforcement of Fair Housing
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is responsible for enforcing the Fair Housing Act.
If you believe that you are a victim of housing discrimination, you can file a complaint with the HUD. Fair housing complaints can be filed online, or via email, phone or postal mail. Because there are time limits on when a complaint can be filed with HUD after an alleged violation, it’s important to submit a complaint as soon as possible after the incident. You can find more information about the complaint process here: https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp