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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Fight Rental Housing Discrimination

I recently received an email asking for my help and/or advice on how to prevent discrimination when looking for rental housing.

The family that contacted me has a very sick child with a rare disease. The family was told to obtain a 'therapy dog' by their physician. For those of you who are not familiar with this term, according to Wikipedia: a Therapy Dog refers to a dog trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, mental institutions, schools, and stressful situations such as disaster areas. A therapy dog is not considered an assistance dog, which assist humans and has legal rights to accompany their owners, but I do feel a certain compassion should be given to this family and not be denied housing.

I also believe this dog should be considered a service dog, which is a type of assistance dog, specifically trained to help people who have disabilities other than visual or hearing impairment. Examples include psychiatric service dogs, mobility assistance dogs, and seizure response or medical response dogs. Service dogs are sometimes trained and bred by private organizations.

To date, this family has been turned down continuously and may find themselves homeless. This therapy dog is making it possible for this child to look forward to another day.

While continuing to get special care for their child, which required trips out of their state, this added burden is overwhelming for them.

In case you or someone you know has been discriminated against, see below:

What types of housing discrimination are renters protected from?
The federal Fair Housing Act and Fair Housing Amendments Act (42 U.S. Code §§ 3601-3619, 3631) prohibit landlords from choosing tenants on the basis of a group characteristic such as:

race
religion
ethnic background or national origin
sex
familial status, including having children or being pregnant (except in certain designated senior housing), or
a mental or physical disability.
What kinds of subtle discrimination are illegal?
The Fair Housing Acts prohibit landlords from taking any of the following actions based on race, religion, or any other protected category:
falsely denying that a rental unit is available to some applicants
advertising that indicates a preference based on group characteristic, such as:
skin color
setting more restrictive standards, such as higher income, for certain tenants
refusing to reasonably accommodate the needs of disabled tenants, such as allowing a guide dog, hearing dog, or other service animal
setting different terms for some tenants, such as adopting an inconsistent policy of responding to late rent payments, or
terminating a tenancy for a discriminatory reason.
How can a renter file a discrimination complaint?
A tenant who thinks that a landlord has broken a federal fair housing law should contact a local office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the agency that enforces the Fair Housing Act, or check the HUD website at www.hud.gov. (A tenant must file the complaint within one year of the alleged discriminatory act.)

If the discrimination is a violation of a state fair housing law, the tenant may file a complaint with the state agency in charge of enforcing the law.

Also,instead of filing a complaint with HUD or a state agency, tenants may file lawsuits directly in federal or state court. If a state or federal court or housing agency finds that discrimination has taken place, a tenant may be awarded damages, including any higher rent paid as a result of being turned down, and compensation for humiliation or emotional distress.

Other tips:

Write to your local paper as the family described above has.
Notify your local news and inform them about the situation. I am sure the landlord wouldn't want bad press coverage.
Start a petition and get as many names as you can who agree you should not be denied housing.

What are your thoughts about this situation? Do you think this family should be denied housing? Please share your comments...



Source: Find Law

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