Housing has been recognized as one of the main rights of every citizen of the United States. This right has been enshrined in the constitution of our country. The seriousness of the issue is such that the federal government itself vows to provide every citizen the right to purchase and possess a house according to their means. What this results in is the concept of fair housing which is ensured by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The department has created an administrative unit under its own jurisdiction, called the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) which seek to end discrimination in the availability of houses to marginalized groups for both purchasing and renting purposes.
The main weapon in the hands of the FHEO is the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which was a preclude to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, though more broader in perspective since it sought to end discrimination on basis other than race, gender, religion, disability, national origin, and familial status. The removal of discrimination on the basis of sex and national origin was added later to the law in the form of amendments. For the past several years, the FHEO has strived hard to find instances of discrimination on the part of landlords, home financing institutions, and home sellers, and has fought legal battles to get the American people the right to fair housing.
In 2015 alone, for example, the FHEO has had to file six charges of discrimination on the basis of familial status, which in most instances meant that landlords either charged families with relatively more children highly, or put extremely restrictive rules on their stay. In one such case, a real estate company in Massachusetts was accused of discriminating against families with children on a frequent basis. The HUD charged the company with discrimination on the basis of the fact that individuals and companies are prohibited by law for refusing housing to families with children under the age of eighteen. The manifestation of discrimination can be both in verbal and professional forms. In this case for example, the firm’s agents were found guilty of discouraging families with children to apply for renting houses advertised by the firm due to the presence of lead paint in the house which could result in lead poisoning in young children
The audacity and conniving nature of the firm was caught red handed by the FHEO, who came to a conciliation agreement with it. The agreement required the firm to pay a hefty fine of $9500 to Housing Discrimination Project along with developing a public service campaign on radio and newspapers to spread awareness that discrimination on the basis of fear of lead poisoning is a punishable offence. Another remarkable outcome of the case was that landlords are now bound by law to remove hazardous lead paint from houses before handing them over to renters with children in the family.
On the opposite end of the pole was a case involving landlords based in Texas, who put overly restrictive rules on the availing of facilities by children under 16. The case was brought to HUD’s attention by the Fair Housing Council of Greater San Antonio, an HUD Fair Housing Initiatives Program agency. According to initial investigations, it was reported that the landlords did not allow children under the age of 16 to use the laundry facilities, swimming pool, or the parking lot without the presence of an adult. Furthermore, the landlords went to the extent of notifying families to vacate the house within twenty-four hours if their children were found to be playing in the parking lot with scooters or bikes. The case is still in progress and will be heard by a United States Administrative Law Judge. It can result in penalties ranging from payment of damages, attorney fees, and fines to the victims and the FHEO respectively.
Another case of discrimination was witnessed in Pennsylvania a few months back where the landlord discouraged families from applying for renting the house due to the ‘not safe for children’ structure of the house. The intentions of the owner of the house were made clear in an online ad he posted about the house which openly discouraged families with children from applying due to the unsafe nature of the landing and stairwell. A sting operation by an agent of Fair Housing Council of Suburban Philadelphia resulted in the owner refusing to give a tour of the property as soon as he was told that the agent wanted to live there with her daughter. Another agent, on the other hand, was given the application papers along with a tour of the property as soon as she testified that she had no children.
While a number of steps have been taken to get rid of this menace, discrimination against families for one reason or another, still occurs. In the case of families with children however, it is socially more harmful since landlords would be denying a roof to children that cannot take care of themselves. Widespread awareness of the issue and prudent legal aid can ensure that citizens are able to enjoy every right they are entitled to without malice or discrimination.
Equal opportunity for all has always been the focus of The Power Is Now. I look forward to shedding light on these issues and building a better future for our future. I invite real estate professionals to join me on my radio show to bring about change now. The power is now!
Eric Lawrence Frazier, MBA
President and CEO