When you think of the term “fair housing” do you think that “rent is not fair” because it is unfortunate that we have to pay it and the costs are often substantial?
Rents and mortgages are often associated with high prices, but that’s not what fair living is about.
The concept of fair living goes much deeper.
The Fair Housing Act is known to many as a major legislative achievement of the civil rights era. It is designed to prohibit and protect against discrimination. Many fair living issues are related to rents, but it can also arise when people are trying to get a mortgage or change a home loan.
Jeffrey Hussey, Director of Public Interest and Litigation at Community Legal Services in Mid-Florida, provided some background on the subject in a recent interview and explained why it is relevant today.
“History shows how important that is,” said Hussey. “When Dr. King was assassinated and the country had race and civil unrest, President Johnson got Walter Mondale to urge that this be enacted. This was a way to try to heal the land. “
The Fair Housing Act has seen some changes over the years, most recently to keep more people safe – meaning landlords cannot discriminate against others based on their gender identity and / or sexual orientation. The law also prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, gender, marital status and disability.
And although it may seem obvious to some that no one should discriminate against others, fair living is still relevant, perhaps especially today given the country’s climate.
“In the past two to three years, some racial injustices have come to the fore,” Hussey said. “People who may have hidden their prejudices in the past now feel encouraged to flaunt it. And that is evident in residential construction. “
Mid-Florida Community Legal Services receives grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to conduct research to determine if there are complexes or landlords who are actively discriminating against others.
When two people with similar credit, employment and rental histories tried to rent an apartment and management housed the white person but not the colored person or said there were no vacancies, this is an example of something the legal service does The community would investigate and submit a complaint to HUD about it.
And that’s just one type of case the group would look into.
Given the state of the world with COVID-19 and the financial hardships that have accompanied the pandemic, many people have turned to the organization lately, Hussey said.
When you think about disability protection, do you think it’s a civil right? Because they are.
Emotional support animals sometimes make headlines because some people push the envelope, but Hussey said the group works with men and women who depend on these animals – for example, consider someone like a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder.
If that person is looking at their dog to ease their anxiety, it is a need. If the veteran is renting in a location that doesn’t allow pets, it would likely create a problem.
“If you have a note that says Fido is providing assistance, we can try to work it out,” said Hussey. “Let’s say (the renter) has a disability, a medical certificate, and we need reasonable accommodation for the complex’s no-pet policy. And when they say it’s a strict no, (we’re talking about) a surrogate. Then we would initiate a complaint procedure at the HUD. “
People can submit complaints to the HUD on their own, but calling in an expert might be more effective.
There are some similarities between the service dog example and grab bars.
If you or someone you know needs them, these types of assistive devices are allowed in places like a shower; as long as you do not tear out or seriously damage the walls of the apartment complex. For people who use scooters and walking aids, fair living space would meet the need for a wheelchair ramp.
Landlords are not allowed to discriminate against families with children.
Once, Hussey said he was working with a married couple who lived in an apartment complex, and management was upset when they had a baby.
In fact, the paperwork is really ancient, Hussey said, adding that there really is a clause or some kind of language against children.
“We filed an injunction with the court and within 20 minutes the judge granted it to me,” said Hussey.
Most people don’t know they have fair housing rights, Hussey added. You only hear about evictions. And these can be hard to fight at times, unless it’s like the condo example and someone was stupid enough to put something down in writing, the attorney said.
Hussey is concerned that when the pandemic is over, renters and homeowners will not be able to pay, and we might see problems emerge like the 2008 housing crisis: loan modification problems, companies trying to Encouraging people to refinance – ideal conditions, neighborhoods populated by minorities with different interest rates and the like.
Two people with the same sources of income and creditworthiness may be treated differently.
“And you can’t choose,” said Hussey.
Red-lining is the refusal to give someone credit because he or she lives in an area that is considered to be financial risk. Hussey said he was nervous, that might come up again.
“People will be desperate when the rental moratoriums are gone,” he said. “There could be a housing crisis. People can be cheated and discriminated against. “
Sexual harassment is another concern. It is believed that there was a spike after the Covid-19 break-in, with tenants unable to pay and landlords saying something like, “If you do this for me, I’ll care dispense.”
“It’s happening out there, unfortunately,” said Hussey. And it’s difficult for people to get on with it. They are embarrassed and they did not know that they had protection. “
So much of the goal is enforcement and education.
“That’s what HUD wants us to do,” said Hussey.
In some cases it may make more sense to go straight to the HUD and you can fill out a complaint online, but it’s often much easier to reach out to a group like Community Legal Services.
“We can get started, investigate, and then call,” said Hussey.
CLS can help
Often times, working with lawyers will buy you a little more time, as HUD is known for sending letters and extending cases by 100 days while lawyers investigate the matter.
There are experts who want to help. At Community Legal Services, the whole goal is to help others.
“Trying to navigate the legal system is difficult,” said Hussey. “In housing and family law you can refer to the forms, but sometimes that’s not enough.”