Your Fair Housing Questions Answered - Part 2 - The Fair Housing Institute, Inc.

Your Fair Housing Questions Answered – Part 2

Thank you again to all our community contributors! You asked some really thought-provoking fair housing questions, and Kathi is back to answer them.

A woman standing with her arms crossed considering fair housing questions.

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

What are the best ways to advertise while keeping within fair housing guidelines?

We have to start by looking at the kind of basic fair housing issues that can come up with advertising. First of those are the words that you use. A recent video we produced on advertising provided the words that were probably good to avoid because they may have negative fair housing consequences.

The other thing is you have to be sensitive to what your pictures portray, especially if they’re pictures of people. Over a period of time, the pictures you use need to be diverse and cover the protected categories, not every single picture, but the pictures that you use over, say, several months in your advertising. And when we talk about advertising, we’re not just talking about billboards, TV, or newspaper advertising but social media as well, as that is more commonly used today.

Depending on the size of your organization, regular spot-checks of all your advertising needs to be done. Whether it’s in-house or sourced out to a marketing company, just be sure they are well-aware of fair housing standards to ensure ongoing compliance.

If a homeowner rents their home on their own, do they have to follow fair housing laws?

This is a very good but challenging question. The Fair Housing Act does not apply in a limited way to a homeowner who owns three or fewer units. So, for instance, if they lived in their house, that would be one. If they owned a duplex, that would be three. Also, they can’t use a real estate professional to manage or lease the property. If they do, they lose their exclusion. And finally, they cannot have any discriminatory advertising as there is never an exclusion for this. So as you can see, it is a very limited category.

However, keep in mind that other federal laws and even some state laws might apply to this type of housing situation. For instance, there’s a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race when you’re contracting with someone. So obviously, a lease is a contract, and there are also some state laws that could get involved. Either way, it’s always a best practice to do everything you can to avoid any appearance of discrimination when you are renting out your property.

We have multiple markets at our site, so do we need to provide reasonable accommodations to our market renters?

The general answer is: regardless of what kind of housing you provide, if it’s market rate, if it’s a low-income tax credit, or if it’s subsidized federally—any and all types of housing—the housing provider is required to at least consider a request for a reasonable accommodation. And if in that request the housing provider finds out that the resident is indeed disabled and needs the requested accommodation, then in most cases, you need to and are required to provide that accommodation. I don’t want to confuse that with the issue of who pays for any costs that result from a reasonable modification. We’re going to cover that in just a minute, but you absolutely need to provide reasonable accommodations in all types of housing.

Maintenance on a rental house/apartment is not being done, is that also in the Fair Housing Act? Would someone not fix something because they are discriminating against someone?

Assuming that we’re looking from the resident’s perspective and their maintenance work is not getting done, the question is, could that be illegal discrimination? So I would answer the question like this: If a landlord provides good maintenance service to one tenant but refuses to provide the same kind of maintenance services to another tenant, and those two tenants are in a different protected category, then absolutely, this would look like illegal discrimination. However, on the other hand, if the landlord is just doing poor maintenance services for all their tenants, then that’s not different treatment, so it wouldn’t be considered discrimination. That’s just a really bad landlord.

What are some of the biggest fair housing mistakes you have seen or heard about being made by student housing providers?

The two most common issues are: the refusal to permit assistance animals in student housing and roommate matching. When it comes to assistance animals, I understand why that can be a real problem because usually, in student housing, roommates are sharing the unit and sharing a living space together, and so if somebody has an animal, it certainly creates some issues. In regards to the roommate matching process, if a property permits the students or maybe the students’ parents in some situations to put limitations on the roommates that that student will live with and any of those limitations end up relating to the protected category of a potential roommate, then that can be viewed as illegal discrimination in housing. I think the best way of addressing both of these issues is to have very clearly openly-stated policies that state that management is required to follow the Fair Housing Act when assigning roommates or making decisions about assistance animals.

So which landlord has to pay for reasonable modifications – the private landlord or the subsidized landlord?

As far as the Fair Housing Act is concerned, private market landlords do not have to pay for reasonable modifications. That is the responsibility of the resident. However, we also want to remind you that there are a couple of states and at least one or maybe more local fair housing laws that put that requirement to pay on the landlord regardless of what type of property it is. So it’s important to know your local laws. There are also limited exceptions in certain areas of the country where subsidized landlords, regardless of where they are, have to pay reasonable costs for modifications if needed because of the disability of the resident, unless those costs would pose a financial and administrative burden on the landlord.

Our application asks if they need the features of a “mobility accessible unit”. Does the word ‘mobility’ need to be present?

This can be a little bit of a complicated answer. Let me begin by just answering the question. Yes. I think the use of the term mobility accessible unit is important. And the reason it’s important is that that’s not the only type of accessible unit. There are two types, one is mobility accessible, and those units have things like wider doorways features like maybe a walk-in shower, a roll-under sink in the bathroom, in the kitchen, lower countertops, lowered cabinets, and things like that. And so those are mobility-accessible units. Usually, it has to be designed from the beginning of when that property was built. There is also what we call an AV-accessible unit for hearing and visual accessibility. Those units require much less modification. It’s mostly wiring and places for a T D D machine to be plugged in.

So chances are, the term ‘mobility’ is being used to identify what kind of a unit it is and what type of disability people probably have to need those special features. Also, you should be asking applicants to identify whether they need either mobility or an AV-accessible unit. So then you can make your assignments depending on which type of unit they need.

Stay tuned for part three of our series: Your Fair Housing Questions Answered

*The answers portrayed in this article/video are based on The Fair Housing Institute’s years of professional experience. They are general responses based on best practices. They do not replace legal advice and should not be used as such.


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