In recent years, fair housing lawsuits have become more prevalent than ever before. Landlords and property managers are facing an increasing number of claims alleging discrimination on the basis of protected classes, such as race, gender, religion, and disability. These lawsuits can have serious financial and reputational consequences, making it crucial for those in the housing industry to stay informed about fair housing laws and best practices. In this article, we will explore some recent fair housing lawsuits and what we can learn from them to ensure that we are compliant with fair housing regulations and avoid similar legal disputes.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
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Kathi joins us to consider three recent lawsuits that showcase fair housing claims regarding familial status and disability, disparate impact, and reasonable accommodations. Read on to see what Kathi has to say are key takeaways that every housing provider should consider.
A Property Manager That Needs a Career Change
In this case, we see a laundry list of fair housing violations. Here we find a gentleman who also happens to be a recovering alcoholic requesting to move his pregnant girlfriend along with her daughter into the unit he currently occupies with his daughter. I think why this case is interesting is it highlights what can happen to someone who has clearly not received fair housing training. So what did this property manager do?
Firstly he failed to take into consideration that you do not count an unborn child when considering occupancy limits. So his statement that the two-bedroom unit couldn’t have five people violated the law based on familial status that protects pregnant women. If that wasn’t bad enough, the egregious treatment of the resident by the property manager clearly violated the Fair Housing Act. The case shared both texts and emails where the property manager humiliated the resident based on his recovering sobriety, which is considered a disability.
Based on these two complaints, it’s easy to see why the court ruled in favor of the resident, and damages were awarded.
English Speakers Only?
Can you imagine a property management company requiring that there be an English-speaking resident in a unit? Well, that is exactly what this case alleges. The New York City Fair Housing Agency brought the case against a landlord who required someone in the apartment to speak and read English. In this well-reasoned brief, the Department of Justice explains that while language is not a protected category, it is so closely related to National Origin that policies requiring residents to be able to speak English can have a discriminatory impact on persons with various national origins. And they make a very good argument that in doing so, what is happening is a disparate impact against residents who are of a different national origin than someone from the United States. The bottom line is that all housing providers must make a good faith attempt to communicate with all persons regardless of their limited English proficiency, along with not having policies that require the use of English.
A Reasonable Accommodation for Occupancy Limits
The final lawsuit that we considered was filed on May 17th, 2022; the US Department of Housing and Urban Development entered into a consent order with a Baltimore, Maryland condominium company, Scarlet Place Residential Condominium Incorporated, and Agent Brody Management, Incorporated.
The case shared that the respondents refused to waive the property’s occupancy policy and permit the two-bedroom condo to be rented to a family of eight while a child of the family received a bone marrow transplant in a nearby hospital.
HUD viewed this refusal as a failure to provide reasonable accommodation to the family. So what can we learn? It’s hard not to get emotionally involved in a situation like this. Here we have a very sick child who requires treatment at a medical facility. Of course, the family would want to stay close and support each other while contending with these difficult circumstances. The owner of the unit had no problems renting to the family despite it only being a two-bedroom unit. However, the board or the Property Owner’s Association was against it.
There may be times when you may consider waiving your occupancy policy because of someone in the family’s disability. Whether it is reasonable or not to require that this organization, this management company permit eight people in a two-bedroom might be questionable. Had this been litigated, the defendants may have been able to put up a very strong case for their refusal. But since it didn’t get litigated, we won’t know how it would have been answered in a trial. But one thing we can take away based on this case is that HUD may require companies to make accommodations when it comes to their occupancy policies.
In conclusion, the recent fair housing lawsuits serve as a stark reminder of the importance of adhering to fair housing laws and regulations. By staying up-to-date with the latest laws and continuously educating ourselves and our staff, we can prevent discrimination and ensure equal access to housing for all. It is vital to recognize that fair housing is not only a legal obligation but also a moral responsibility. Let us learn from these lawsuits and continue to work towards creating a more equitable and just housing industry.