Category: Fair Housing

Do Fair Housing Laws Protect Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered People?

By Tracey March

There is strong evidence that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) people and their families are discriminated against in the housing and rental markets. But whether or not that type of discrimination is illegal depends on the specific circumstances and the state. And in most states, it’s still legal.

Federal Fair Housing Act

Sexual orientation and gender identity are not protected classes under the federal Fair Housing Act. However, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has made it clear that it is illegal for landlords, rental owners, and property managers to:

  • Evict a gay man because of a concern about HIV/AIDS (disability discrimination).
  • Refuse to rent a dwelling to a transgendered person (could be sex discrimination).
  • Discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity in HUD-assisted housing, including Section 8 housing (see HUD’s 2012 rule ).

Outside of these limited circumstances, the federal Fair Housing Act alone offers no protection. So, for example, it does not prevent landlords from denying housing to lesbians, gay men, or bisexuals because of their sexual orientation.

State Fair Housing Laws

Although the federal Fair Housing Act doesn’t protect against discrimination in most circumstances, some state and local jurisdictions have enacted their own fair housing rules that do. As of this writing, twenty-one states and the District of Columbia ban housing discrimination based on sexual orientation, and sixteen states and the District of Columbia ban housing discrimination based on gender identity.

In most states, counties, and cities, however, landlords can still discriminate. Where there is no fair housing protection against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, there isn’t much LGBT individuals can do if they are denied the opportunity to apply for a rental. However, once a lease is signed, it can be terminated only for reasons specified in the lease agreement.

Related: Are You Subject to Fair Housing Laws?

Because state and local laws are subject to change and this is an area of expanding and evolving law, make sure you stay on top of the requirements in your jurisdiction.

As always, the information provided here is just that–it is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. If you have any particular questions or issues, please consult an attorney.

May 4, 2013 | 0 Comments More

Fair Housing Act: Tenant Use of Medical Marijuana

By Tracey March

State laws legalizing marijuana are spreading. Colorado and Washington allow marijuana for recreational use, eighteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, and several states have pending legislation. However, federal law still classifies marijuana as an illegal class one drug, so under the federal Fair Housing Act landlords aren’t required to allow it as a “reasonable accommodation” for people with disabilities.

Regardless of where you live, you can have a no-smoking policy in your rentals as long as you do not discriminate against a protected class in implementing and enforcing the policy. In fact, landlords are increasingly instituting no-smoking policies to deal with odor and smoke issues as well as out of a concern for tenant health.

And if you have a tenant who is disabled and smoking marijuana medicinally and you live in a state where medical marijuana is not legal, you are not required to accommodate medical marijuana usage.

However, things get murky for landlords in states allowing medical marijuana because of possible claims under state fair housing laws that medical marijuana use is a “reasonable accommodation” for say, people undergoing cancer treatment. Because state medical marijuana laws directly conflict with federal law, the enforceability and legal liability of any medical marijuana policy is in question.

There are some options in developing a medical marijuana policy, none of which should be considered fail safe:

  • Prohibit medical marijuana. However, there is a possibility you could get sued under state law for not providing a reasonable accommodation.
  • Allow tenants to use medical marijuana only if they qualify as disabled under fair housing law, which would not allow everyone with a medical marijuana card to smoke marijuana in your rental.
  • Allow medical marijuana with no limitations.

If you live in a state with legal medical marijuana and you have a disabled tenant who is smoking it, a mediator could help resolve the situation by helping you and your tenant agree on mutually acceptable solutions. In addition, consider consulting an attorney. And if you take Section 8 vouchers, check with your local Fair Housing about the rules.

Do you have a policy on medical marijuana usage by tenants? If so, please share.

As always, the information provided here is just that–it is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. If you have any particular questions or issues, please consult an attorney.

April 28, 2013 | 2 Comments More

Are You Subject to Fair Housing Laws?

By Tracey March

April is Fair Housing Month, which is a great time for both tenants and property owners to study up on their respective rights and responsibilities. But believe it or not, some people aren’t even required to comply with fair housing legislation.

Federal and state laws prohibit rental owners, property managers, and landlords from discriminating against certain groups in any aspect of renting residential real estate, including advertising and tenant screening. However, these laws exempt certain properties.

Federal Law: Fair Housing Act Exemptions

Single-family homes rented without the use of a real estate agent or advertising are exempt from the federal Fair Housing Act as long as the private landlord/owner doesn’t own more than three homes at the time.

Apartments of four units or less are also exempt if the owner lives in one of the units. However, even if this multifamily exemption applies to you, your rental advertising must still comply with the Act.

Other exemptions include the rental of a single room in a home, qualified senior housing, and housing operated by religious or private organizations, if certain requirements are met.

State Fair Housing Laws

Regardless of the federal exemptions, many local and state jurisdictions have their own fair housing laws, often with additional protected classes and different exemptions. For example, California’s fair housing law covers any form of housing which can be described as a “business establishment”–a term which courts have broadly interpreted to include almost every type of housing. Accordingly, the owner-occupied multifamily homes and the single-family homes exempted under the federal fair housing law are not exempt from the California law.

Even if you are exempt under state or federal fair housing laws, those laws were enacted to prevent discrimination in the provision of shelter–a basic human need. Renting in a way that is consistent with the spirit of the law isn’t only good business, it might also protect your karma.

As always, the information provided here is just that–it is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. If you have any particular questions or issues, please consult an attorney.

April 23, 2013 More

Find a Property Manager