April is Fair Housing Month, a time to reflect on United Spinal’s commitment to ensuring every American, including people living with spinal cord injuries and disorders (SCI), have access to housing that is free from discrimination.
Congress enacted the landmark Fair Housing Act of 1968, which outlawed for the first time private as well as public discrimination in housing. Twenty years later, Congress passed the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, a law that significantly expanded the scope of the original legislation and strengthened its enforcement mechanisms. The Act amends Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin in housing sales, rentals or financing. The FHAA extends this protection to persons with a disability and families with children.
This law is intended to increase housing opportunities for people with disabilities. However, individual citizens must come forward with concerns, file complaints or sue if they believe their rights have been violated. The government has no other way of detecting discrimination as it occurs. As a result, it is important to understand this legislation and how to make it work for you.
Who is Protected?
The FHAA added persons with a “handicapping condition,” along with families with children, as protected classes under the Civil Rights Act. The legislation adopts the definition of handicapping condition found in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended. This definition includes any person who actually has a physical or mental impairment, has a record of having such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity such as hearing, seeing, speaking, breathing, performing manual tasks, walking, caring for oneself, learning or working.
Types of Housing Facilities Covered
This law pertains to all types of housing, whether privately or publicly funded. Some examples of types of facilities include, but are not limited to, condominiums, cooperatives, mobile homes, trailer parks, time shares, and any unit that is designed or used as a residence. It also includes any land or vacant property, which is sold or leased as residential property.
Key Prohibited Actions
The FHAA prohibits a wide array of activities that discriminate against persons with disabilities and families with children in the sale or rental of housing, including:
- Refusal to sell or rent a dwelling unit when a bona fide offer has been made, where the refusal is based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status or national origin.
- Imposing different terms and conditions or treating people differently with the provision of service because of race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status or national origin.
- It is illegal for a landlord to refuse to allow a tenant with a disability to make modifications, at the tenant’s expense, which would permit the tenant to fully enjoy the premises. The landlord can, where reasonable, require the tenant to restore the interior of the premises to the condition it was in prior to the modification. Premises are defined to include interior and exterior parts. Therefore, refusing to permit a tenant to make modifications to a lobby, entryway, parking lot or laundry room, is also discriminatory.
- Asking a question designed to determine whether an applicant or anyone associated with that applicant has a disability is unlawful under FHAA. However, the Act does provide for certain inquiries, provided they are asked of all applicants whether or not they have a disability.
FHAA requires two types of reasonable accommodations to make existing housing more accessible to persons with disabilities. These accommodations consist of structural modifications and policy changes.
- Structural Modifications
Housing providers must permit reasonable modifications of existing premises if such modifications are necessary for a person with a disability to be able to live in and use the premises. The cost of the modification is to be paid by the resident with a disability.
- Policy Changes
FHAA requires that the housing provider make reasonable modifications in rules, policies, practices or services necessary to give persons with disabilities equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling.
In short, any policy or rule that denies people with disabilities access to a facility or service may be a violation of FHAA.
Accessibility Requirements in New Construction
Newly constructed multi-family dwellings with four or more units must provide basic accessibility to people with disabilities, if the building was ready for first occupancy on or after March 13, 1991. The design features mentioned here apply to all units in buildings with elevators and to ground floor units in multi-level buildings without elevators.
Filing a Complaint
Any person who believes he/she has been discriminated against based on their disability may file a complaint with the nearest HUD office. Complaints must be filed within 1 year from the date the discriminatory act took place and may be filed in person, over the telephone, or by mail. If the information is given over the telephone, the HUD office will put the complaint in writing and send it to the complainant for signature.
Each complaint must contain the following information:
- The name and address of the complaining party;
- The name and address for the person who committed the alleged violation;
- A description and the address of the dwelling involved; and
- A concise statement of the facts, including pertinent dates.
Also, a complainant may bring an action directly in federal district court within 2 years from the date the discriminatory act took place. FHAA does not require the exhaustion of administrative remedies before a case is filed in court.
For more information, download a free copy of our “Understanding the Fair Housing Amendments Act” booklet.
You can also contact HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO).
Main Address: 451 7th St., SW, Washington, DC 20410
Phone Number: 1-202-708-1112