General Fair Housing News & Developments


As professional apartment management employees and property owners, we need to remember that governmental agencies (such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as well as state, city, and/or county anti-discrimination agencies) look for cases with what they view as “good facts” to bring. Our friends at the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) found one of those cases last year when an apartment landlord refused to rent to a family because the husband is serving in the military (he is a United States Marine) and if his unit gets deployed overseas, the family will need to break its lease.

The apartment owner met with the wife and expressed no hesitation about renting a unit to this family until the wife informed him that her husband is in the Marine Corps. Once the landlord learned about the military service, he allegedly would not provide the family with an application nor would he rent them a unit. The family filed a complaint under a California state law which prohibits businesses from discriminating against someone on the basis of occupation or any other arbitrary basis and pursuant to the California fair housing act (which includes source of income as a protected class).  While I know there are always at least two sides to every story, the optics here are not good for management.

To resolve the case, the landlord agreed to pay $4,500 and attend fair housing training.

It should go without saying that we welcome those who serve our country into our apartment communities. If a soldier is deployed overseas during a lease term, I would suggest working with the family to find an appropriate result if they reach out to you with a request. Indeed, there are times when members of the military are specifically permitted to break their residential leases.

Just A Thought.

Yesterday the Trump Administration submitted its proposed fiscal year 2018 federal budget to Congress. Although any administration’s budget is but a request (as it is Congress that actually sets federal spending levels), included in the document is a proposed 13% cut in funding for the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD). If enacted as presented, HUD’s budget would decrease from $47 billion (in fiscal 2017) to just under $41 billion (in fiscal 2018). In its proposed budget, the administration asserts that “state and local government are better positioned to serve their communities based on local needs and priorities.”

Specific line item cuts include: the Community Development Block Grant Program, the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, the Choice Neighborhoods Program, and the Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program. Housing advocates are already arguing that reductions of this magnitude will put a significant strain on the nation’s housing authorities and others who rely on federal funding for their housing.

I have not seen specific cuts directed at fair housing enforcement or fair housing priorities, but we are still early in the process.  So, does this mean management can stop complying with the Fair Housing Act (FHA)? No. Even if the government is less active, it is a fair bet that local housing advocacy groups (who are typically funded, at least in part, with HUD money) will continue to file cases in an effort to take up the slack and demonstrate the need for continued fair housing needs.

Just A Thought.

Earlier today, the U.S. Senate confirmed Dr. Ben Carson as our next Secretary of the Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD). The vote (58-41) was mostly along party lines. Frankly, given how well his confirmation hearing went, I am a bit surprised the vote was as close as it was and that it took until the first week in March to clear the nomination. Nevertheless, we now have a new leader at HUD. From my seat as management’s lawyer, we will now at least begin to learn about Carson’s initiatives and how he plans to direct HUD to enforce the Fair Housing Act (FHA). During his confirmation hearing, Dr. Carson stated he would continue to aggressively enforce the law, although he acknowledged little or no experience in the housing arena.

Now confirmed by the Senate, Carson said he would take a “listening tour” to hear from career HUD officials and others involved in housing to help learn about concerns and how best to use HUD’s $49 billion dollar budget for 2017.

My initial prediction: a Carson-led HUD will continue to investigate and file housing discrimination cases based on the seven protected classes in the FHA as have previous administrations (both Republican and Democratic). But I would not be surprised to see some of HUD’s other recent initiatives (such as rules designed to “affirmatively further fair housing” and/or rules concerning LGBT individuals) to get additional scrutiny.  I would also guess that HUD will look to expand partnerships with the private sector and various religious groups in an effort to transition individuals out of public housing.

Just A Thought.