Housing Discrimination (Fair Housing Act)

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What is the Fair Housing Program?

The Fair Housing Program (FHP) at Bay Area Legal Services was established to enforce the fair housing laws throughout Hillsborough County. There are no income requirements for FHP clients. FHP is committed to zealously advocate on behalf of victims of discrimination, and has a three-fold approach to accomplish this mission.

Education

FHP educates housing consumers to recognize and report housing discrimination. If your group would like to receive a fair housing presentation, please call our office.

Investigation

FHP often investigates cases of alleged discrimination and also performs testing. Testing has proven to be a highly effective method of identifying unlawful housing discrimination. FHP also attempts to determine the nature and extent of housing discrimination being practiced in our community.

Enforcement

FHP attorneys may negotiate a settlement for a client, represent a client in state or federal court, or may help a client file a case with a government agency and advocate for the client throughout the process.

What Does the Law Say?

State and federal fair housing laws prohibit discrimination in housing based on:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National Origin
  • Familial Status (presence of minor children or expectant mothers)
  • Disability (physical/mental/developmental)
  • Sex (including sexual harassment)
  • Religion

Fair housing laws forbid discrimination in most housing-related transactions, including:

  • The refusal to rent, sell, or deal with a person who falls in one of the above-protected classes
  • Discrimination in the terms or conditions of the sale, rental, occupancy, or in services or facilities
  • Falsely denying housing availability
  • Advertising in a discriminatory way
  • Discrimination in financing, broker’s services, property surveys or homeowner’s insurance
  • Refusal to make a reasonable accommodation or modification for a mentally or physically disabled tenant

When Should I Call the Fair Housing Program?

Housing discrimination is often subtle. The victim often feels discriminated against, yet has no definite proof of it. That is why a FHP investigation can be helpful. Here are some examples of behavior which the FHP could investigate:

Race, Color, or National Origin Discrimination

  • Your phone messages are not returned.
  • Your housing community has “black side” a “white side” or a “Hispanic side”.
  • You are told the house is rented, however you notice the house is still advertised.
  • You are told one thing on the phone, and another when meeting with the owner or agent face to face.
  • You are told that you cannot have visitors of a specific race in your home.

Disability Discrimination

  • You request a reasonable accommodation for your disability, and your housing provider refuses to comply.
  • You request to build a ramp or make some other modifications for your disability at your own expense, and your landlord refuses.
  • You are evicted when the housing provider learns of your disability.
  • The manager of a housing complex tells a case manager that they will not take “programs for the mentally ill” because of their “insurance.”
  • A landlord refuses to waive a “no pet” rule for a disabled person who needs a companion animal and would be denied the opportunity to use and enjoy their home without the animal.
  • A landlord refuses to change a policy that requires proof of prior employment or rental history when a person with a disability does not have such a history because he/she has been in an institution.
  • A landlord refuses to waive a “no guest” policy if a tenant with a disability must employ a personal care attendant, therapist, nurse, etc., in order to live independently.
  • A landlord or leasing agent tells a case manager who places persons with disabilities in housing, “We have nothing available,” when in fact there are units available.
  • A landlord charges more rent to disabled tenants than to non-disabled tenants.
  • After a disabled tenant requests an accommodation, the landlord begins to harass or intimidate the tenant.

Sex Discrimination

  • You are sexually harassed by any member of the housing provider’s staff.
  • Your landlord requests you to provide sexual favors.

Familial Status

  • You are told “no kids” or “too many children.”
  • You are only told about units in the “kids area” of a complex or only shown units on the first floor when other units are available.
  • You are told that your children do not have access to facilities, such as the swimming pool or playground.

Religion

  • Because of your religion, you are subjected to an increased security deposit.
  • You are told only about areas of town with a synagogue or mosque.
  • Christian symbols are used in advertising.

More Disability Rights

Discrimination against the disabled is prohibited in most housing transactions. If you have a physical, psychiatric and/or developmental disability, you have the right to apply for housing without regard to your disability, enjoy your home without interference, and not be unjustly evicted. Here are some things you might not have known about your rights under the Fair Housing Act:

Application Process

The landlord cannot impose more stringent application criteria, security deposits, rental charges, or rental standards on tenants because they are disabled.

A landlord may not ask a prospective tenant or resident whether he or she has a mental illness or another disability. It is also unlawful for a landlord to inquire about the severity of a tenant’s disability. A landlord is not entitled to see a tenant’s medical records.

If a tenant is applying for housing suited for people with disabilities or a particular disability, the landlord may ask the tenant if he or she qualifies for the dwelling.

Evictions

Some circumstances may justify the rejection or the eviction of a tenant with a disability: (1) the person refuses or is unable to comply with tenancy rules that apply to all tenants, or (2) the person’s “tenancy would constitute a direct threat to the health or safety of other individuals or whose tenancy would result in substantial damage to the property of others.” However, if a reasonable accommodation would eliminate the threat or enable the tenant to comply with the standard tenancy rules, the law requires the landlord to provide such an accommodation.

Can I Request a Reasonable Accommodation?

If you are disabled, you may request a reasonable accommodation from a landlord to help you live independently and/or comply with the lease. In some cases, tenants may have to incur some costs. We recommend that if you wish to request an accommodation, do so in writing and keep a copy of the letter (see example below.)


Month/Day/Year

Dear Mr.(s) Landlord:

I am a person with a disability and need a reasonable accommodation. I am requesting that you provide the following reasonable accommodation: (write what you wish your accommodation to be). I am entitled to this accommodation under the Fair Housing Act. Please contact me indicating whether you will grant or deny my request.

Sincerely,

(Resident’s Name and signature)


NOTE: Make sure to sign and date the letter.

When deciding whether to request an accommodation, make sure that it meets these requirements:

  • The accommodation is REASONABLE.
  • The landlord is not asked to provide non-housing services.
  • The accommodation does not put undue burden on the landlord.
  • The accommodation will specifically help the tenant because of the unique nature of the tenant’s disability.

EXAMPLE: A single mother with a minor son has mold in her apartment due to a water leak from the a/c unit. Her son has severe asthma and has had several doctor’s visits due to a worsening of his condition. The mother asks for a reasonable accommodation by asking the Landlord to repair the a/c unit, which the Landlord refuses to do. The mother should contact the Fair Housing Program to find out what her rights and remedies are.

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