The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate in the sale or rental of housing based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, familial status or disability. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has announced this year’s Fair Housing Month theme as, “Our Work Today Defines Our Tomorrow.” HUD and the National Fair Housing Alliance have released videos and fliers as part of a national media campaign. State and local disability advocates are encouraged to participate in this opportunity to enhance awareness of the Fair Housing Act and its important protections for people with disabilities and other covered groups.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued final regulations endorsing the use of a “disparate impact” standard under the Fair Housing Act. The Fair Housing Act provides vital protections against housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status. The new rule formalizes HUD’s longstanding interpretation that housing policies and practices can be determined to be discriminatory not only by their intent, but also by their effect. This interpretation is essential to ensuring that groups protected under the Fair Housing Act – including people with disabilities – have opportunities to live in all communities.
Under a “disparate impact” standard, landlords and lenders can be held accountable for unjustifiable pursuit of policies and practices that discriminate against protected groups. For example: a landlord with a “no pets” policy who refuses to make exceptions is making housing unavailable for people who use service animals; a bank that only approves mortgages for employed applicants is making housing unavailable to people with disabilities who rely on Social Security or Supplemental Security Income; a housing provider who refuses to process rental applications without drivers’ licenses is making housing unavailable to people with visual disabilities and others with disabilities that prevent them from acquiring drivers’ licenses.
Last year, The Arc joined with other disability and civil rights groups to urge HUD to issue a final “disparate impact” rule. The Arc applauds HUD’s issuance of this important final rule.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit against the city of San Jacinto, California for alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for the Central District of California, alleges that the city discriminated against individuals with disabilities by restricting group homes from operating within the city. The suit also alleges that the city targeted homes for individuals with disabilities in a 2008 sweep by city and county officials and armed police officers and sheriff’s deputies who interrogated residents by asking intrusive questions related to their disabilities. DOJ has asked the court to prevent the city from enforcing its discriminatory zoning laws, prohibit the city from refusing to make reasonable accommodations, to award monetary damages to the victims, and to assess a civil penalty. DOJ issued a press release about the lawsuit.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) and Bank of America N.A. have announced a settlement to resolve allegations that Bank of America violated the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act for discriminating against home loan applicants who receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). The bank had asked applicants to provide details of their medical conditions and required a letter from their doctor documenting their SSDI income. Under the settlement, Bank of America has agreed to revise its policies on documenting disability income, hold employee trainings, and pay monies to the loan applicants who were affected by the alleged misconduct. The bank will hire a third party administrator to search approximately 25,000 loan applications involving SSDI income to identify any other victims.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) reached the largest ever housing settlement agreement under the Fair Housing Act with Texas-based JPI Construction and its six affiliates. JPI has built over 200 multifamily properties in 26 states and the District of Columbia since 1991. DOJ found accessibility problems in 32 of its multifamily housing complexes where JPI failed to include features that would make them accessible to people with disabilities. Under the settlement, JPI will pay over $10 million into an accessibility fund which will be used to retrofit the properties and increase the number of accessible housing units and will pay a civil penalty of $250,000. For more information, see DOJ’s press release.
The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) has released its annual report on fair housing trends. As noted in their press release, “In 2011, the largest share of housing discrimination cases, about 44 percent, involved discrimination against people with disabilities.” Under the federal Fair Housing Act, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability, or familial status in rental housing, real estate sales, lending, insurance, and any financial or other services related to housing. To read NFHA’s 2012 Trends Report, go to www.nationalfairhousing.org.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) charged Bank of America with discriminating against homebuyers with disabilities who rely on disability payments by imposing unnecessary and burdensome requirements for loan applications. HUD also charged Bank of America with requiring some borrowers with disabilities to provide physician statements. Both actions could be violations of the Fair Housing Act. HUD referred the action, based in part on complaints from individuals in Michigan and Wisconsin, to the Department of Justice.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) settled a Fair Housing Act lawsuit against the owners, developers, architect and civil engineers of a 276-unit apartment complex in Louisville, KY. The defendants will make the complex accessible to people with disabilities and pay $275,000 to 29 individuals who were discriminated against. To read DOJ’s press release, go to http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2011/December/11-crt-1586.html
The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a settlement of its lawsuit against Equity Homes Inc, PBR LLC, BBR LLC and Shane Hartung for violating the Fair Housing Act. The company failed to make six apartment complexes in Sioux Falls, South Dakota accessible to individuals with disabilities. The company has agreed to remedy the problems, pay $41,500 to people harmed by the inaccessible housing, and undergo training in the Fair Housing Act. To read the press release, visit the DOJ website.