Fair Housing, Civil Rights, Laws, Discrimination and Protected Classes
FAIR HOUSING: Landlords, Real Estate Agents, For Sale by Owners (FSBO) – This is a must read! Avoid legal issues and hefty fines!
FAIR HOUSING & DISCRIMINATION
Realtors & Landlords be aware! Know the laws and stay out of trouble!
Fair Housing Act and Civil Rights Act:
Fair Housing tries to provide equal access to housing for all groups of people and protect them from discrimination. There are federal and state laws for “protected classes”, a group of people with a common characteristic who are legally protected by federal law from discrimination on the basis of that characteristic. Hence, the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Under Federal Fair Housing laws, race, color and creed are protected classes.
In addition, in the State of CT, the law states that you can’t discriminate by marital status, sexual orientation, age, disabilities, lawful source of income, and familial status. These are all protected classes.
The Federal Housing Authority (FHA), to date, includes seven protected classes: race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status. This last term refers to the presence of at least one child under 18 years old, and also protects prospects and tenants who are pregnant or in the process of adopting a child.
Real estate agents may stumble into bad situations surrounding Fair Housing. But how do we spot these situations, what do we do about it and how do we stay out of trouble?
First, real estate agents and landlords need to clearly understand the Fair Housing Act passed in 1968 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Both these agencies can come down on Realtors® and landlords. There are many towns and cities that are heavily segregated from the surrounding suburbs and these agencies want to improve equal housing. They see real estate agents as part of the problem.
Familial Status means a parent or guardian with children under the age of 18, perhaps a grandparent for example. Pregnant women and a household in the process of adopting a child are also protected.
Physical or Mental Impairment
Physical or Mental impairment that impairs major life functions which substantially limits a person for a long period of time.
Examples of this protected class:
- Having a record of a substantial disability like Supplemental Security Income (Social Security Disability).
Gender Identity – is now a protected class in the State of Connecticut.
Connecticut is very tough and aggressive on protected class. Realtors get no exemptions!
There are Federal laws for owner occupied multi-family properties.
“But mom lives on first floor and she doesn’t want kids running around above her!” Now what?
Let’s say there is a 3 family home for rent and the landlord’s mom, who lives on the first floor, doesn’t want children upstairs. If the landlord is a realtor, he or she can’t discriminate whether they live in the home or not. If the landlord is not a Realtor®, he or she may have an exemption. Owner occupied homes have the exemption but agents don’t. Agents can’t weed people out!
“But there are too any people wanting to live here!
The line is drawn by town occupancy limits not the perception that there can only be 2 people per bedroom. This rule does not exist! For example, in the state of Connecticut, the building code states that there needs to be 150 feet for one person and 100 square feet of living space for additional people living in the dwelling. Square footage is the determining factor of how many people can occupy the home not the number of people.
In some cases a landlord may try to use the septic system size as an excuse to discriminate saying the system is set up for 4 people and you have 6 so they won’t rent to you.
Real estate agents should never get in the middle of a sticky situation. The landlord should get legal advice if there are too many people who may have moved in after the lease was signed. Realtors should stay out of it and advise the landlord to seek legal advice. Real estate agents are not lawyers!
“Over 55 rentals”
Distribution of Outdated Condo Doc with wording “No Kids Allowed”- WATCHOUT!
Agents should never distribute outdated copies of condo docs to a potential buyer! You can be FIRED and FINED! $$$
If a real estate agent has an old copy of condo docs that states “no minors or kids”and gives this old to a buyer. Then buyer files a complaint to the commission of human rights and informs the homeowners association that the documentation is old and needed to be updated. The agent should only distribute updated condo docs by the legal process. The condo docs should always be the current documents.
The commission of human rights fines both the homeowners association and the real estate agent for discriminatory practices! Because the realtor handed out the documents, they became responsible for the discriminatory practice. The new condo docs did not have this discriminatory wording. Never distribute old Condo Documentation!
Advertising proprieties on Multiple Listing Service as “Over 55”.
Avoid Agent MLS Remarks “Adults only” “Over 55”!
EXAMPLE: A realtor adds a new listing to the MLS and writes “adults only” in the remarks section. Their broker found out later, pulled listing off the MLS and terminated the real estate agent. So how did this come to the attention of the broker to begin with?
Be aware that Fair Housing uses web crawler to search for key words all over the internet. This listing ended up on some unrelated website and a complaint was filed against the broker for using this discriminatory terminology. Even though the wording was removed from the MLS, the Fair Housing Center said it was still a violation. This case was settled for 20k paid by the broker and the Agent who wrote it was also fined. An alternative could be to pay an attorney to defend it but that can become very costly!
There is no such thing anymore as “NO MINORS”. Eighty percent of units must be occupied by folks 55 and older. A real estate agent must be sure of this before writing this in the Multiple Listing Service. Never advertise as an over 55 community unless you know for sure. Don’t assume that 100% units are 55+.
The correct wording should be “certain units are age restrictive”. **** 80% of the units are occupied by 1 person who is 55+ and 20% of the units are occupied by under 55. Advertise truthfully when listing in these communities!
Examples of Differential Treatment:
- “I don’t want Italians.”
- “No kids are allowed because the septic system won’t be able to handle it.”
- “No kids because there is lead paint.”
- “Kids can fall off the upper deck because of weak railing.”
In the example of the kids falling off the deck and the septic excuse, HUD states that this is a misplaced concern and the landlord should fix railings on deck and upgrade the septic to accommodate more people.
Change of Conditions of Rental
The landlord says that they will rent to you but will charge more for your service dog. Legally only 2 months of rent plus a security deposit can be asked for by landlord. They cannot ask for an additional security deposit for pets.
Advanced Rental Security
In Connecticut, you can charge more rent for allowing a pet but not extra security.
A tenant cannot pay rent for a year in advance. They can only pay 3 months upfront: first and last month’s rent plus one month security deposit. If 65 or older, then first month’s rent and one month security deposit.
Example: If a tenant with bad credit offers a full year’s rent upfront and signs the lease then the tenant can turn around and then asks 9 months rent back for “over paying rent”. So he landlord is out of luck. Last month’s rent is considered security deposit no matter what you call it.
An example of steering would be to tell prospective buyer that “you would be much happier in this town” or “You don’t want to go to that town”. Many buyers/renters will ask about neighborhoods and crime rates and get frustrated when the realtor gives a short answer. The buyers/renters need to do research on their own.
Don’t be stupid in your advertisement of a rental property or or home for sale. Sell the property not the people! When writing an advertisement for a property for sale or rent be careful of your wording. Don’t “sell people” neighborhoods. If you have to ask yourself if what you are writing in the advertisement is legal stop and get legal advice.
An example of “selling people” is saying something like “This is a great family neighborhood and a short walk to the synagogue” This is WRONG! Say “house of worship”.
Examples of Differentiation:
- Requiring Latinos to get pre-approved but not whites.
- Discouraging people of color but not whites.
- “The landlords require criminal background checks – this isn’t going to be a problem?”
- Block Busting: “They are coming it’s time to get out!”.
Another example would be if a landlord insists that the potential tenant has credit score of 650 or more. Will the landlord refuse the prince of Dubai who has no credit score in this country? NO! Recent immigrants (national origin) may not have a credit score.
It would also weed out people with bad credit scores but have a lawful source of income such as someone who receives money from the government on section 8. Requiring a credit score is not something you can use because it weeds out certain protected classes. This is SUSPECT!
The landlord gets investigated for disparate impact. There will be asked list of questions like “where did your laundry list of criteria come from” or “what is your factual backup for choosing this credit score number of 650?”
The landlord’s response might say “I have been stiffed by 3 tenants that had under 650 credit scores”. So this is how landlords choose the 650 number. This Seems like neutral criteria but race is protected.
Blacks and Hispanics have higher rate of criminal record so this is a disparate impact. Real Estate agents can‘t do anything with a criminal record report.
A Section 8 applicant may have unpaid medical bills lowering their credit score but always paid rent and utilities so it has no bearing on their ability to pay rent.
For example, if a landlord does an evaluation and turned down a tenant based on his credit report. Then the landlord issues and adverse action notice is to inform the renter that they have been denied credit based on information in a credit report. The notice should indicate which credit reporting agency was used, and how to contact them.
This is a layer of protection that shows it was based on credit report. With section 8, it is different. If car was repossessed but tenant has voucher for rent and they have paid rent all the time, then the landlord can’t take the credit report into account.
Disparate Impact – Devil RULE! Pay attention here agents!
Let’s say a landlord requires tenant to appear before him to read the lease with him so this way he can be certain the tenants understands the terms of the lease. This discriminates against mental & learning disabilities, and national Origin. Intent is irrelevant it was the effect!
Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities is designed to ferret out excuses. Let’s say the landlord wants to weed out Hispanics. This seemingly neutral criteria was applied to everyone but had a disparate impact to weed out Hispanics.
Definition of Disparate Impact that it has a greater effect on a protect class than everyone else.
Landlords want real estate agents to enforce their requirements for renters and as agents we don’t want to do this! Realtors market the property and landlord makes the decisions.
Tell the landlord to talk to an attorney and read about the laws. Get on the record with landlords – tell them to get legal advice before they set the criteria for potential renters. Agents should not get in the middle of a dispute.
State Law in CT NOW– When you buy multi-family at closing attorneys give you handbook on fair housing that buyers have to sign off on.
Connecticut Fair housing is stricter than any state. If you comply with fair housing laws in Connecticut you can comply anywhere.
If realtors or landlords need information they can go to State of Connecticut Judicial Branch or get a Landlord Guide at the state library. They also have security deposit program and more.
Landlords must use reasonable accommodation for disabled tenants and accommodate pets like service dogs.
For example if the counter in a home needs to be lowered to accommodate a wheel chair the landlord must allow the work to be done at renter’s expense. Renter does not have to put it back when they leave but the landlord and tenant negotiate the terms.
If a renter is looking to rent an apartment that is non-smoking but they use medical marijuana the must take it in a different for this is mostly due to the fact that the use of medicinal marijuana is still illegal under federal law.
Service animals – Reasonable Accommodations vs Reasonable Modifications.
An example of reasonable accommodation would be to provide a tenant with a handicap a closer parking space. This can be arrangd at no extra cost to a landlord or a condo complex. HOA’s (Homeowners Associations) can get sued for not providing it. An adverse judgement can cost 25k to HOA. Typically HOA’s are volunteers who don’t necessarily know the regulations and find themselves in sticky situations from time to time.
A example of a reasonable modification would be to put a ramp in. If the tenant pays for the ramp then it is a reasonable accommodation.
Interior modifications are different than exterior. Tenant doesn’t have to restore the exterior modification and only has to restore interior if it isn’t a lot of money.
A tenant must ask for an accommodation and if he doesn’t ask he can’t sue for reasonable accommodation. The landlord can ask for documentation from a treating medical professional to show they need a ramp or a service dog. The person’s disability is always protected.
Class Violations include Race, National Origin, Family Status, Race, Religion, Disability and Sex
Here are some statements that a realtor must never make:
- “The seller prefers that a nice Italian family lives here.” (Race, National Origin)
- “This apartment or home might be too big for a woman.” (Sex Violation)
- “You don’t want to live there, the crime rate is very high in this neighborhood.” (Race violation)
- “They have some nice Catholic Churches in this town.” (Religion)
- “I will show you a ground floor unit since you are in a wheelchair.” (Disability)
- “The landlord does not want any kids or pets so let’s look elsewhere.” (Family Status)
A few examples from the FDC of ADVERSE ACTION by landlords include:
- To deny the application;
- Requiring a co-signer on the lease;
- Requiring a deposit that would not be required for another applicant;
- Requiring a larger deposit than might be required for another applicant; and
- Raising the rent to a higher amount than for another applicant
Bottom line for realtors and landlords is to know the laws and abide by them at all costs! Be smart, ethical and hold yourself to high standards! If you are a first time home buyer or renter this is valuable information for you.
Information contained in this article listing has been compiled from various sources, all of which may not be completely accurate. Please check with your State and Federal Agencies.
Additional Resources for Real Estate Information:
What is Dual Agency: Why Buyers & Sellers Should Avoid it! via Bill Gassett
Top 10 Lies that Real Estate Agents Tell Home Sellers via Kyle Hiscock
6 Ways to Avoid Illegal Steering via National Association of Realtors
3 Smart Tips for Improving you Credit Score Prior to Applying for a Mortgage via Paul Sian
Thinking About For Sale by Owner? Here is what you MUST know! via Eileen Anderson
Real Estate information was provided by Eileen Anderson, a recognized leader in her field. Eileen can be reached via email at Eileen@eileenandersonrealtor.com or by phone at 860-966-2112. Eileen has helped people move in and out of many Connecticut towns since 2000.
Thinking of selling your home? I love Real Estate, sharing my knowledge and helping people find the home of their dreams!
I am licensed for residential real estate sales in the state of Connecticut including but not limited to the following CT towns: Avon, Bloomfield, Burlington, Barkhamsted, Canton, Colebrook, East Granby, Hartland, Hartford, Suffield, Windsor, New Hartford, North Granby, Farmington, Litchfield, Simsbury, Suffield and West Hartford, CT.