By MyNewPlace Guest Blogger, Ron Leshnower – About.com’s Apartment Living Expert!
Hopefully, you haven’t encountered housing discrimination and you never will. But it’s important for every apartment dweller to become familiar with fair housing basics. This way, you can spot possible violations and also know your options if you believe you’ve become the victim of discrimination and wish to bring a fair housing complaint against a landlord or other housing professional.
April is Fair Housing Month, which is a great time for renters to get up to speed on fair housing law. To help you, here are 10 things you might not know about housing discrimination — but should:
1. Only certain characteristics are legally protected against discrimination. Not all discrimination is illegal. The Fair Housing Act, a federal law, bans housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status. Many states and municipalities have their own laws with additional “protected classes,” such as military status, sexual orientation, age, and source of income.
2. The characteristics of the person doing the discriminating doesn’t matter. If you believe you were discriminated against because, for example, you’re Hispanic, the fact that some or even all of the people whom you believe are discriminating against you are also Hispanic doesn’t justify or excuse their actions.
3. Discrimination may still be illegal even if it’s well-meaning. Landlords must tell prospective tenants about all vacancies for the bedroom size they seek, unless instructed otherwise. This means that landlords can’t make assumptions that an applicant who uses a wheelchair would only want a ground-floor apartment and therefore tell this person only about ground-floor vacancies.
4. Families with children are protected even if the children aren’t there yet. Familial status, mentioned above, refers to the presence of one or more children 18 and older in a household. But if a woman is pregnant or a renter is in the process of adopting a child, familial status protection applies.
5. A disability doesn’t have to be physical. You don’t need to use a wheelchair or have trouble getting around to gain protection under the ban on disability-based discrimination. The law applies to mental and emotional disabilities as well, such as multiple chemical sensitivity, chronic fatigue syndrome, and learning disabilities.
6. It’s possible to face discrimination before and after lease signing. Some people think that landlords begin to owe a duty of non-discrimination once they sign a lease with you. But landlords can also get into fair housing trouble before lease signing, such as by rejecting an apartment application because of a person’s race, religion, or other protected characteristic.
7. Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination based on sex. If you suffer sexual harassment by a property manager, maintenance staff worker, or other housing professional, be aware that it’s considered a violation of the law’s ban on sex-based discrimination.
8. It’s possible to face discrimination from someone who hasn’t even met you. National origin is a protected class, as mentioned above. So, landlords who choose not to respond to apartment inquiries because they hear an accent they don’t like in a voicemail or note unusual grammar in an e-mail may face fair housing charges.
9. Less overt forms of illegal discrimination are still illegal. Short of rejecting an apartment application based on an illegal reason, landlords who “steer” applicants to certain parts of their building based on their race, religion, or other protected characteristic, are also in violation of fair housing law.
10. You don’t need to spend money or hire a lawyer to seek fair housing justice. If you believe you’ve become the victim of a fair housing violation, you may be relieved to know that you can pursue a claim through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) at no charge. Here’s information on how to do this.