Fighting Housing Discrimination for LGBTs
Over the past year things have been looking up on the LGBT rights to housing front.
In Jan. 2013, a lesbian couple won a case against a bank that refused them a mortgage. Almost a year earlier in Feb. 2012, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) extended its fair housing policy to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and marriage status.
This ruling formed the basis for the victory of the lesbian couple.
“I hope the HUD ruling will encourage more people to file discrimination suits,” Keenya Robertson, president of the HOPE Fair Housing Centers, said about the HUD ruling, ”instead of thinking it’s a futile gesture”.
This ruling applies to buying, renting, or lending in HUD housing, and community development programs. Most importantly, the ruling also applies to Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage insurance programs. These programs cover about 33 percent of all U.S. mortgages.
“This agreement demonstrates that HUD will vigorously enforce its Equal Access rule and pursue lenders that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or marriage status,” Helen Kanovsky, HUD’s General Counsel, said in a statement posted on the Fair Housing Coach website. LGBT people have successfully pursued complaints of housing bias in Boca Raton and Miami Beach, but this HUD ruling greatly expands the possibilities for addressing this issue.
Notably, housing bias does not just affect LGBT people. According to Robertson, African-Americans suffer the most housing bias in Broward County. She also said that the other major discriminatory practice concern is the failure to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities.
With the exception of the HUD rule, no federal protections exist to protect LGBT people from housing bias. Florida also lacks these protections. While some laws in Broward and West Palm Beach counties do protect people from discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity, laws in Miami-Dade only protect on the basis of sexual orientation. The Federal Fair Housing Law and the Americans with Disabilities Act protects HIV-positive people.
Robertson (FHC) said that you can tell when you are experiencing discrimination when “things that offend common sense” begin to occur.
She gave examples of multiple versions of the same story, a sudden denial of opportunity, and different terms and conditions for people with children. Cases also exist where people have used the number of unrelated people sharing a bedroom to discriminate against same-sex couples.
If you suspect you may have been discriminated against, create a record of your experience on disk, or in writing as soon as possible: Dates, places, witnesses, and who said what.
People trained in fair housing law need this record to determine the strength of your case and how to proceed. Two organizations can help you if you experience housing discrimination: Lambda Legal (www.lambdalegal.org) is a national LGBT legal group. The local HOPE Fair Housing Center (www.hopefhc.com) has free services and two hotlines: Broward (954-567-0545) and Miami-Dade (305-651-HOPE).
The Fair Housing Center deals with bias renting, buying, and lending money for purchase and all targets of that bias.
While the HUD ruling is a good first step, it is not enough, according to Robertson.
“While I’m very excited about the LGBT HUD ruling,” she said, “I would like to see sexual orientation and gender identity as named protections in the Federal Fair Housing Act to include everyone.”