In 2008, then 78 year old widow in Ohio Helen Grybosky received several calls about renting a unit in a three unit home she owned in Ohio.
The first caller, asked about allowing a “therapy dog” that her brother needed to help him sleep. Helen agreed to the dog with an additional deposit.
Another interested party was told by Helen that she would not rent out the unit on the 2nd story to someone with small children due to the noise between floors.
A third caller has a “seeing eye” dog and Helen agreed to allow this without a pet deposit.
What did Helen do wrong?
Well first she didn’t know that all 3 potential renters were not actually potential renters but people hired by a private agency to test potential landlords to see if they might violate fair housing. And by having a different standard for the seeing eye dog that had no deposit and a companion animal that had a $100 deposit she violated fair housing laws. Further by refusing to rent the upper level unit to someone with children, she again violated fair housing.
And while Fair Housing laws are clear about not discriminating on familial status and not renting to the children, they are vague as to pets and people with disabilities, especially when just about anyone can get a certificate on the internet for the companion animal.
To read more on this case, the 3 year legal battle costing $1000s, Google Helen Grybosky.
This past February 2017 an Oklahoma Landlord allowed a companion animal but failed to waive the pet fees for a Veteran suffering from PTSD. The Tenant filed a complaint and HUS is now bringing charges against the landlord.
At the center of both above and many other fair housing violation cases is basic Fair Housing Law that states that a home seller or landlord cannot establish discriminatory terms or conditions in the purchase or rental of housing or advertise said property as being available only to persons of certain race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin.
Further in the past year HUD has added a codicil to the Fair Housing Act regarding the assessment of criminal records, contending that refusing housing to people based on their criminal background or arrest record is discriminatory. Read a reacent case on this issue here.
What does a landlord or home seller need to know?
We know that we need to keep fair housing in mind when we are advertising a property. We should talk about physical attributes or amenities of the property. We should not discuss how the home would be perfect for people with kids because it’s close to a school. We should not state that the local Catholic Church is just down the street. Or that it would be perfect for a disabled person due to the lack of stairs.
We know it is advisable to show the Fair Housing Logo in all advertising and to include a disclaimer that the community does not discriminate based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability or familial status.
We know to treat all prospective tenants the same when we show a property. Showing all people the same units, the same public areas and the same features.
We know we should offer reasonable accommodation to tenants and if the property needs to be modified, if it is reasonable and not an undue burden, we should allow the accommodation ormodification. We may not know that volunteering to make the accommodation or modification without being asked could be discriminatory and we may not know that any structural modification should be paid for by
We also know that we need to be fair in our screening process. Using the same set of questions and check lists for every call, every application, every property showing and every tenant evaluation process. We may not know we should keep records of these calls, applications, and evaluations to document our fairness to all. We may not know that these records can be very helpful in defending a fair housing violation claim.
Where the law is vague though comes in defining just what is a disability, handicap, sex or even familial status.
Where questions arise is when the law is vague.
Just what is a reasonable accommodation when it comes to helper animals for people with disabilities. Which animals do we need to allow and which can we disallow? And just what qualifies as a disability?
What can we ask about criminal history? And what can we use to qualify or disqualify a tenant when it comes to criminal history and background? Remember we do not want to allow criminals into our rental units, but we also do not want to discriminate on race or national origin.
Can we ask what language they speak? This could be discriminatory to national origin.
If you have questions about fair housing, then you will want to join us at the KC Landlord Expo on Saturday March 11th to learn exactly what is prohibited and what HUD, the Missouri Commission on Human Rights and the KC Human Relations Departments are doing to make sure you do not discriminate against your buyers, sellers, tenants, prospective occupants and borrowers. Learn how to screen tenants in the Tenant Screening Workshop and write your leases to comply with fair housing in the Lease Workshop.
If you don’t have questions about Fair Housing, then maybe you should.
Because we do not want our members getting fined or ending up with a huge legal battle, we are inviting everyone to attend the Kansas City Landlord Expo on the 11th. Not only will we share some of the larger more dramatic issues that are causing landlords and property managers to get sideways with Fair Housing, but what local Fair Housing and HUD officials are doing to catch you in the act so to speak. It’s a little over a half a day at JCCC, it only costs $25 and it includes lunch. We will be done by 3pm.