Workshop on US fair housing act stresses equal access for all
he federal Fair Housing Act turned 45 last month, but vigilance, enforcement and education are still needed to ensure full housing access to all.
Sandra Larson | 5/9/2013, noon
continued Massachusetts law provides additional protections, barring discrimination for marital status, age, gender identity and expression, military or veteran status, ancestry, public assistance recipiency and genetic information.
And in April, the Violence Against Women Act added protection at the federal and state levels for victims of domestic violence or stalking. For instance, victims cannot be evicted because of police calls or restraining orders; they cannot be penalized for breaking a lease to flee an unsafe location; and landlords must comply promptly with requests to change locks.
There are some exceptions to fair housing protections — for instance, in a property with three units or fewer that currently houses an elderly or infirm person, children can be disallowed — but advertisements cannot state such restrictions. People must be allowed to apply, and their eligibility then judged based on facts and legal criteria.
Rather than steering people away from units with lead paint, the law requires owners to delead units for families with children under age 6. It also requires reasonable disability accommodations and/or modifications, such as changing doorknobs for a tenant with arthritis, allowing service animals or installing grab bars in bathrooms.
The most common discrimination complaints the BFHC receives are related to lead paint issues, Section 8 and reasonable accommodation, Cox said.
It is complicated, Cox acknowledged, to know what can be forbidden (smoking? pets? someone with a prior eviction?) or requested (deleading when a tenant becomes pregnant?) and even what questions can be asked of an applicant. Innocent questions from real estate agents about marital status, ages of children or national origin, even if asked in friendly conversation, could later be seen as discriminatory if the apartment is not offered, she said.
Cox and Irish encouraged housing seekers, providers or advocates who have questions or complaints to contact the Civil Rights Office at 617-635-2500. More information can also be found online at www.cityofboston.gov/civilrights/fhc/.