Part III of III
What are the exceptions to Federal Fair Housing Laws and what actions can I take if I believe I have been the victim of housing discrimination?
Here is a continuation of the exceptions in the 1968 Fair Housing Act:
Sale or rental of single-family housing is exempted if the owner does not own more than three single-family houses at one time, does not advertise the sale or rental in a discriminatory fashion and does not use a real estate broker. The owner is also exempt in the sale of any single-family house if he is a private individual who does not reside in the house at the time of sale or was not the most recent resident of the house prior to the sale, provided that there is only one such sale within any two-year period. This private individual owner may not own any interest in, nor is there owned or reserved on his behalf, title to or any right to all or a portion of the proceeds from the sale or rental of more than three such single-family houses at any one time. Consult the Fair Housing Act for further information about how to qualify for this exemption.
Federal fair housing acts do not ban discrimination based upon age, except in the case of familial status (re: families with children age 18 and under and pregnant women). However, for example, if an aged person suffers from advanced senility and his actions would disrupt other tenants in the building or cause him to forget to pay the rent, then the landlord can deny the tenancy based on age-neutral evidence that he or she is unlikely to be a reliable tenant.
Members of one of the protected classes against whom sellers and landlords may not discriminate may be denied housing on the basis of objective criteria which the seller or landlord apply to all applicants. For example, if a landlord specifies a minimum FICO score or a minimum yearly income, or if a seller requires a bank approval letter before proceeding with a transaction, if an applicant does not meet these criteria then he/she may legitimately be denied housing. The Federal Fair Housing Act does not protect juvenile and sex offenders, persons who illegally use controlled substances and persons with disabilities who pose a significant danger to others.
Landlords are not permitted to question you about a disability or illness or ask to see medical records, and must show all available units to you even though you have a disability. However, if you want to rent the third floor apartment and can’t climb stairs, you cannot expect the landlord to install an elevator to accommodate your disability. But you may expect the landlord to accommodate your reasonable needs such as allowing a guide dog in a no-pets building. The landlord is not required to allow you to make major structural alterations. Should the landlord allow you to make modifications and if these modifications will make the apartment unacceptable to succeeding tenants, then you must agree to remove the alterations when you vacate the unit and the landlord has the right to require that you leave money in an escrow account to cover this projected cost. The landlord is entitled to require proof that the alteration that you require will legitimately address your needs; a physician’s letter will probably suffice.
If you believe that you have encountered discrimination, you can file a complaint on your own. Consult the NYS Division of Human Rights for housing; for lending, the NYS Banking Department; for discrimination under federal law, the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development; for your county or municipality, get a list from the State Division of Human Rights. You can file a housing or lending discrimination lawsuit in the federal district court or NYS Supreme Court in your area. Private fair housing agencies can also help. But you must file within the time limits of the various statutes of limitations beginning with the date of discrimination: within one year for an administrative complaint with the State Division of Human Rights, HUD or the Superintendent of Banks; two years under the Federal Fair Housing Act; three years under the Federal Civil Rights Act. To protect your immediate need to buy or rent, the NYS Executive Law allows the Division of Human Rights to act immediately; or file a lawsuit yourself to seek a temporary restraining order by the court.
By Vivian J. Oleen, Associate Broker, Sopher Realty