5 Simple Facts About the Fair Housing Act

1. History

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

SCLS Teams Up With Private Attorney For Victory at the S.C. Court of Appeals

Navigating Medicare and other benefits can be difficult for seniors. This was no more apparent than in a recent SCLS appellate victory over National Healthcare /Mauldin, LLC (NHC) where the S.C. Court of Appeals was asked to reverse a trial court decision against our client Wade Thompson, an elderly, disabled veteran from Anderson County.

In a victory for our client in National Healthcare LLC vs. Wade Thompson, https://www.sccourts.org/opinions//unpublishedopinions/HTMLFiles/COA/2019-UP-378.pdf  SCLS Attorney Susan Ingles[1] and PAI Attorney Sharon Ward[2] teamed up to obtain a reversal of the trial court decision that granted a judgment of $8,869.32 to NHC against Thompson.    The S.C. Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s original judgment that was based on quantum meruit, an equitable doctrine to allow recovery for unjust enrichment.  “A party may be unjustly enriched when it has and retains benefits or money which in justice and equity belong to another.” 

In reversing the trial court, the Court of Appeals held that NHC is estopped from seeking recovery from Thompson because it acted with “unclean hands”[3] by admitting Thompson to its care under the assumption of Medicare coverage and then failing to notify Thompson of its own corporate email response stating no benefit days were available to Thompson. 

NHC failed to notify Thompson that his stay at its Mauldin, SC facility would not be covered by Medicare.  The healthcare facility had obtained initial telephone verification of Medicare coverage at the time of admission, but the follow up written verification NHC received less than 24 hours later confirmed the stay would not be covered. Thompson had already exhausted his benefit days under Medicare rules. As a result, Thompson’s subsequent 6-week stay was not paid for by Medicare as NHC personnel assured Thompson when he was admitted. After NHC did not receive the $8,669.32 from Medicare that Thompson unwittingly incurred for six weeks, they filed the debt collection lawsuit against Thompson and his daughter.  The trial court dismissed Thompson’s daughter from the lawsuit and that decision was not appealed by NHC.

In the appeal, NHC argued that Thompson was unjustly enriched by the 6-week stay it provided that Medicare did not pay for. The Court of Appeals held NHC’s failure to tell Thompson of the lack of coverage as soon as it received the written verification constituted unclean hands and held he was only liable for a $630 charge he had already paid.

Ingles and Ward successfully argued that NHC’s failure to notify Thompson that his stay would not be covered was fatal to its claim that he should pay for the stay out of his own pocket.  The S.C. Court of Appeals agreed. Find out more about how to become a PAI Attorney for SCLS and get paid to further our mission of access to justice for all by clicking here https://sclegal.org/pai/ .


[1] A 15 year veteran at SCLS, Ingles is a Senior Staff Attorney and head of the Consumer Unit.

[2] The Private Attorney Involvement (PAI) is funded by SCLS’ grant from the Legal Services Corporation. The collaborative program exists to encourage the involvement of private attorneys like Ward, who previously served as a staff attorney at the S.C. Court of Appeals, in the delivery of legal assistance to eligible legal aid clients

[3] The doctrine of unclean hands precludes a Plaintiff (here NHC) from recovering in equity if it acted unfairly in a matter that is the subject of the litigation to the prejudice of the defendant (here Thompson).

Fighting Debt Collection

NOTE: All the names in the article have been changed to protect the parties’ identities.

Tatiana Diaz came to South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) in full panic mode. A day prior, someone came to her door and handed her a pack of court documents. She was being sued over some money she allegedly owed. Tatiana could not understand anything more than that. Her first thought was to ignore it and hope it goes away. She had heard about SCLS before and now, with nowhere else to turn, she applied for our help in figuring out what was happening.

What was happening was that a debt collection agency filed ten (10) separate lawsuits against Tatiana, trying to collect on debts it claimed she owed. The total amount of debt from all these lawsuits was just over $7,000. Tatiana admitted that she had a credit card that she used and was never able to repay. However, this was years ago, and she did not believe that she owed as much as the agency claimed in the lawsuits.

SCLS accepted Tatiana as a client to try and verify how much she actually owed, and if she did owe a debt, to negotiate a settlement or a payment plan. Tatiana was supporting a family on one income and could not afford to repay the full amount at once. Our first order of business was to file a response to each lawsuit. Failure to respond to a lawsuit can result in losing your chance to dispute the lawsuit. We did not want that.

Once we responded to the lawsuits, the agency would have to show prove that Tatiana owed this debt and how much she owed. Instead, the agency’s attorney reached out to us and offered to dismiss all ten cases based on Tatiana’s low income. The cases were later dismissed, and Tatiana did not have to pay anything.

If you have a debt collection case filed against you, know that you have options. Although an agency will not always be so quick to dismiss, know that an agency must meet certain requirements before the judge allows it to collect from you. First, the creditor has to prove that you owe that debt. Second, the creditor must prove the exact amount that you owe. Finally, the creditor must prove that it has the right to collect on the debt from you. Collection agencies are not always able to prove all these facts and may be willing to dismiss the case or settle for a smaller amount.

Additionally, the creditor may not be able to collect from you if any of the following are true: (1) the debt is too old and the court can no longer enforce it; (2) the debt was a result of mistaken identity or identity theft; (3) the debt has already been paid or discharged in a bankruptcy proceeding; (4) the creditor did not follow proper legal procedure in trying to collect from you. There may be additional defenses available based on your individual situation.

If you have been sued for consumer debt, apply to SCLS to see if you qualify for our legal services. Call us at 1-888-346-5592 or apply online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.

Rock Hill Open House

The Rock Hill office held their first Open House event on Tuesday, December 10th for local attorneys, judges, agencies, and organizations.  The event was well-attended.  Staff were able to meet with members from the local domestic violence shelter, Rock Hill Housing Authority, and other local groups.  State Representative Mike Fanning also attended along with several magistrates from Chester.   Guests nibbled on delicious chicken salad sandwiches, mini cheesecakes, and fresh fruit and vegetables while discussing important matters effecting the community.  Rock Hill staff and members of the community also discussed new ways to work together to help meet the legal needs of the community.

The Federal Government Increases Special Education Budget by $400 million

The federal government is increasing the budget for special education services and South Carolina will receive a portion of the funds. Since the 1970’s, school districts have been required to provide certain services that students with disabilities need to meet basic goals. The federal government is supposed to provide 40% of the cost of special education services, but, historically, the federal government has only provided about 22% of the cost of special education. Instead, states and some local school districts pay the costs.  However, even when federal government does provide the funds for special education, a few school districts in South Carolina have not been spending all the funds provided. Instead, they’ve sought waivers from the obligation to spend it all. The reasons why remain unclear.

School funding issues can be complicated. Regardless of where the funds are coming from, our focus is on assisting students in receiving the primary education and training needed for continued education, independent living and participation in the work force.  School districts are required to provide special needs students with the services needed to achieve these goals. If a school has denied your child any of these services because of insufficient budget, ask them to verify that it has used all its federal funds. Additionally, ask whether unused funds from other budgets, programs or school districts can be used. Our goal is not to seek the most expensive programs or services, but rather to obtain adequate services. If your child has special needs, a school cannot justify its denials of services on the basis that it does not have the funds needed.

If you are having an issue with your child’s school district, South Carolina Legal Services may be able to help. You can apply for our free legal services by calling 1-888-346-5592 or online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.  

Earned Income Tax Credit

In an effort to educate and create awareness among the low-income taxpayers, taxpayers with disabilities and taxpayers with children, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) celebrates the National Earned Income Tax Credit Awareness day on January 31, 2020.

The Earned Income Tax Credit also known as EITC, is a tax credit that increases the taxpayer’s refund or reduces the amount of tax owed. To qualify for the EITC, the taxpayer must have earned income from working for someone or from running or owning a business or farm.  EITC is one of the largest antipoverty programs. It is important to educate and create awareness about the EITC so those who qualify for this credit can claim it and take advantage of its benefits. Some of the taxpayers at risk for overlooking this credit includes grandparents raising a grandchild, workers without children, workers with limited English skills, workers living in rural areas, Native Americans workers, workers with earnings below the filing requirement, and workers who have disabilities or are raising children with disabilities

To claim this credit, the taxpayer must file a federal income tax return even if the taxpayer owes no tax or isn’t required to file a return. The EITC is a complex tax credit. It varies by income, family size and the taxpayer’s filing status. To qualify for the EITC, the taxpayer must meet the adjustable gross income limit or threshold. Taxpayers without qualifying children might qualify for the EITC if the taxpayer meets the income threshold. Children that are claimed as dependents for EITC purposes must meet all qualifying child rules.

The IRS estimates that four out of five eligible taxpayers claim and receive the EITC.  Nationwide, during 2019, 25 million eligible workers and families received about $61 billion in EITC. During 2019, in South Carolina, 453,000 taxpayers claimed the EITC, 10,000 taxpayers less than in the 2018 tax year. The average amount of EITC received during 2019 in SC was $2,618.00. 

The EITC is one of the most audited credits within the IRS. Taxpayers must keep records even if it is not the first time the taxpayer claimed this credit for the same children. During an EITC audit, the IRS will request that the taxpayer provide proof of relationship, residency, income and support for all the qualifying children claimed. The IRS has a 3-year statute of limitation to assess a tax return from the due date or the date the return was filed, whichever is later.  Therefore, taxpayers should keep copies of their records for at least 5 years.

The IRS has created the EITC Assistant tool. This tool can verify if the taxpayer is eligible for EITC, and it can also help estimate the amount of the credit. To use this tool, taxpayers can visit the IRS website at https://www.irs.gov and type “EITC Assistant” in the search engine.

South Carolina Legal Services Low Income Taxpayer Clinic represents taxpayers that are wrongfully denied this credit. Our services are free. To apply for our services, please call 1-888-346-5592 or apply online at www.sclegal.org.

Beware of Social Security Fraud

Dollar Sign Drawing In A Notebook

Scams involving callers pretending to be from the Social Security Administration (SSA) asking for cash or gift card payments, have increased in the last year to become the most frequent type of fraud. To address this ongoing problem, the SSA has created an online form at https://oig.ssa.gov/ for people to report suspected fraud.

If you have received a call, email, text or in-person communication from someone pretending to be from the SSA, you can report the scam directly to the SSA by using the online form. The form will allow you to create a unique Personal Identification Number (PIN), so if someone contacts you about your report, you can verify that the call is legitimate. The SSA will use the data it receives from the reports to find the people responsible for the scams and reduce this type of fraud and the number of victims.

SSA employees do occasionally contact people by telephone. This contact is usually when the person has ongoing claims or other business with the agency. However, an SSA employee will never threaten you with arrest or other legal action if you are unable to pay a fine or debt.  Any request for money from the SSA will come in the mail. The letter will have specific details of how to make the payment and explain any appeal rights you have if you disagree with the amount owed to the SSA. Similarly, the SSA will normally mail a letter if there are any problems with your Social Security number or record.

As a reminder, the SSA employees will not:

• Tell you that your Social Security number has been suspended.

• Contact you to demand an immediate payment.

• Require a specific means of debt repayment, like a prepaid debit card, a retail gift card, or cash.

• Demand that you pay a Social Security debt without the ability to appeal the amount you owe.

• Promise a Social Security benefit approval, or increase, in exchange for information or money.

If you receive a call promising or threatening any of the above actions, you should hang up and report the call to the SSA at https://oig.ssa.gov. If you receive a letter stating that you owe money to the SSA and you do not agree or want to know more about your rights, South Carolina Legal Services may be able to help. To see if you qualify for our free services, call us at 1-888-346-5592 or apply online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.

Tenants’ Rights to Heat and Hot Water

Young boy sitting in a chair.

During the winter months, lack of heat or hot water can become life-threatening conditions. This can be an especially big problem if you are disabled or have small children.  Repairs to heating and air or water heating appliances may be expensive, and landlords do not always fix them right away.  The South Carolina Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (Act) gives special protections to tenants when heat or hot water is not being provided in their units.

The Act requires landlords to provide heat and hot water.  Landlords are also required to maintain heating systems and hot water tanks.  Landlords cannot avoid these requirements through the lease.  If the landlord does not provide these services, you can sue but must first deliver a written notice to the landlord.  If the problem is not resolved as soon as possible, you can sue the landlord in the magistrate or circuit court and ask that the judge order the landlord to fix the problem and pay money damages.  In most cases, a landlord has fourteen (14) days to repair a problem, but if the problem affects health or safety, the landlord must make the repair as soon as possible.  If the landlord does not repair heat or hot water, you can terminate the lease but must first give the landlord a written notice that the lease will terminate in fourteen (14) days unless the problem is fixed before then.

Additionally, if the landlord does not provide heat or hot water, you have the right to obtain heat or hot water by some other means, such as a space heater or fire wood. You can subtract the cost from the rent and sue the landlord for money damages and attorneys’ fees. 

Once you discover a problem with heat or a water heater, you should act as soon as possible.  First, send a letter to the landlord with the specific details of the problem and what you want him to do.  If you want to terminate your lease because of this problem, say that in the letter. Remember, if the landlord fixes the problem within 14 days, you will not be allowed to end your lease.  Take pictures of any visible problems in the heating unit or water heater.  If not having the heat is life threatening, you can ask the magistrate judge for an emergency order to order the landlord to fix the problem. 

If the landlord does not fix the problem, you may sue.  You can sue in the magistrate court or the county court of common pleas in the county where you live.  If you file your case in the magistrate court, you can get a trial quickly, but remember, you cannot ask for more than $7,500.00 in damages. You or the landlord can ask for a jury trial.  Some counties require that you and the landlord try mediation before scheduling a jury trial. If you are having a problem with heat, air or hot water in your unit, South Carolina Legal Services may be able to help. To see if you qualify for our free services, call us at 1-888-346-5592 or apply online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.

Every Child Deserves A Family

Father & Daughter Hugging

NOTE: All the names in this article have been changed to protect their identities.

In a modern world that is focused on negativity and dividing people based on their appearance or beliefs, we often forget about the simple traits that make us all human. No matter how big our differences may be, we all crave the human connection and the love of a family. Unfortunately, some children do not get to experience this love because they do not have a family. President Trump recently proclaimed the month of November as National Adoption Month – a time in which we can all raise awareness about the value of giving someone a family.

In 2019, South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) has helped with 105 adoption cases. Our staff and your support have helped at least 105 children find a home, family and lots of love.

Rose is one of those children. George Burrell had been the only father figure in Rose’s life. Although not related by blood, Rose had lived with George since the time she was born. When she turned 8, Rose was in danger of losing him. Rose’s mother had her when she was 16 – unable and unfit to raise the baby. The biological father was and remains unknown. Debby, Rose’s maternal grandmother, was granted legal custody of the baby. She and George began raising Rose together.

A few years later, George and Debby split up, but Rose stayed to live with George – her “grandpa”. Initially, she visited with Debby a couple nights a week, but eventually the visits were barely once a week. George continued to raise Rose, brought her to doctor appointments, enrolled her in school and attended all her school events. He was the only significant person in her life who supported her and spent time with her.

Over time, Debby’s behavior became erratic, oftentimes, in Rose’s presence. On a number of occasions, Debby tried to snatch the child from George. Rose was suffering from several mental disorders and the doctors agreed that her condition was stable only when she was with George. Nevertheless, Debby had a legal document showing that she had custody and there was no telling what she would do. George could have tried asking the court to change custody, but that would not eliminate all risk and uncertainty. The only solution was adoption – a permanent legal protection for the home that George had built for Rose.

This case is proof that it does not matter how complicated or unusual an adoption may seem on the surface. Every child deserves a “real” parent who will provide them with love, support, and stability. If you have a child in your life that you want to adopt, SCLS may be able to help. To see if you qualify for our free services, call us at 1-888-346-5592 or apply online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.   

Senior Holiday Scams

It is November and the holiday season has begun! While this season generally brings food, family and fun, it can also expose some of the more vulnerable members of our communities to a heightened risk of scams and fraud. Senior citizens and those who care for them need to be especially vigilant against these tricks. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a great article that highlights some of the more common scams and steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones.


Scams that target older people occur every day, but you can count on scammers to ramp up their efforts to prey on people’s generosity during the holiday season. These grinches, armed with their dirty tricks, may even tell elaborate stories to pull at your heartstrings as they slip their sticky fingers into your wallet.

During the holidays, the common scam known as the imposter or “grandparent scam” might be decorated with a special plea, a story of a relative in trouble who desperately needs money to fix a car or get out of jail and home for the holidays.

The ruse known as the IRS scam takes on a vicious new twist with a grinch on the phone threatening an elder with being arrested and spending the holidays in jail for unpaid taxes or a fake debt. And then there is the predictable increase in false or imposter charities, which sound identical to the real ones. The pitch is wrapped in sympathy inducing requests for year-end, tax-deductible holiday donations. These grinches stand ready to take your credit card or check routing information and charge you for bogus Nutcracker ballet tickets, or a holiday charity fundraising event.

These scammers may even scour the internet and social media sites looking for a special connection to your life, such as a family member or community connection, to get you to trust them so you’ll be willing to part with your hard-earned money. Some will go to great lengths to sound like they know you, or worse, your elderly parents.

Here are a few tips:

  • Before offering your help to someone who claims to be a grandchild (or other relative/friend), be sure to telephone your family to verify that the emergency or urgent request is genuine.
    • Beware of a caller who insists on secrecy. Never allow anyone to discourage you from seeking information, verification, support and counsel from family members, friends or trusted advisers prior to making any financial transaction.
  • Take the following precautions to make sure your charitable donations benefit the people and organizations you want to help. If a caller claims to be from an established organization such as a hospital, charity, or law enforcement agency, look up the number of the organization independently and verify the claim before sending money.
    • Ask for detailed information about the charity, including name, address, and telephone number.
    • Then, call the charity directly. Ask if the organization is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name. The organization’s development staff should be able to help you.
  • If you have received a letter from the IRS stating that you owe taxes, call the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040 for information.
    • The IRS will neither call to demand immediate payment, nor call without first mailing a bill. And, the IRS does not require you to use a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card nor will they threaten you with arrest for not paying.

Share this information with your friends, parents and others in your community. For more information on identifying and preventing fraud and scams, check out Money Smart for Older Adults: Prevent Elder Financial Exploitation  guide for consumers. In addition, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office for Older Americans has produced materials that include Managing Someone Else’s Money Guides for financial caregivers. To find these materials and to learn more, go to consumerfinance.gov/older-americans.


If you have a been a victim of a consumer scam, South Carolina Legal Services may be able to help. To see if you are eligible, call our Intake Office at 888-346-5592 or apply online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.