By: Jay Todd, Esq. of Tupitza & Associates, PC

The Fair Housing Act is a federal law that bans housing discrimination in the United States.  This landmark law is meant to protect tenants on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status.  These categories are known as “protected classes.”

For landlords, the key to complying with the Fair Housing Act is to avoid treating a tenant in a protected class differently than other tenants because of the tenant’s protected class characteristics.  As defined in the Fair Housing Act, a tenant disability includes both physical and mental impairments.  Disabled tenants are entitled to reasonable accommodations with regard to physical structures, as well as a landlord’s standard tenant policies.      

In many situations, identifying a tenant in a protected class and avoiding discriminatory behavior just means using common sense.  But when it comes to disabled tenants, there may be subtle nuances that require more deliberate attention.  For example, a tenant may appear to be able to walk up and down the stairs when the elevators are out of service, but this may not be the case because looks can be deceiving.  When this tenant complains about the elevators being down too much, the busy landlord may not prioritize the complaints, and then the tenant may feel upset and disrespected.                   

In order to minimize the chances of this type of scenario from occurring, landlords should implement robust policies and employee training programs to address Fair Housing Act requirements.  It is also advisable for landlords to be proactive about getting to know their tenants as well as possible and stay in regular communication.  Experienced counsel can assist with this compliance process, in addition to representing the landlord in a Fair Housing Act lawsuit filed by a tenant.        Tenants with disabilities should familiarize themselves with the Fair Housing Act as well as the landlord’s policies, and should clearly communicate the reasons for requested accommodations in writing.  If a tenant wishes to bring a lawsuit alleging a Fair Housing Act violation, retaining an attorney experienced with the Fair Housing Act is essential.  In such a lawsuit, the money damages could be substantial, and may include relief for emotional distress.

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