Who should we get definitive answers from on fair housing questions?
A: You should always get answers on legal questions from the lawyer representing your agency. This Resource Guide and the referrals here are general information only.
What fair housing laws and regulations should my agency be familiar with?
A: There are federal and state laws that create fair housing obligations. The main federal laws are the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In Minnesota, there is the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) and local laws such as the Minneapolis Civil Rights Ordinance. In many states, including Minnesota, state law creates additional fair housing requirements that go beyond the scope of federal law. Therefore, it is important to be familiar with state and local laws in addition to the FHAA.
Our city does not manage or own any housing at all; do we still have fair housing responsibilities?
A: Yes! Public agencies' responsibilities under the Fair Housing Act and other laws extend to activities and policies that directly and indirectly affect people's housing.
Is there a simple explanation of what government agencies’ obligations are under fair housing laws?
A: Not simple, but one way to summarize them is to understand the concept of affirmatively furthering fair housing.
What does affirmatively furthering fair housing mean?
A: You can thank Congress for that phrase. It means that the federal government and all state and local agencies getting federal funds should work to eliminate intentional discrimination, undo the effects of past segregation, and counteract practices and policies that may unintentionally lead to unjustifiable restrictions of persons' housing choices or perpetuate segregated housing. The agencies should also act to insure that people with disabilities get equal access to housing.
My city or the neighborhoods I work in are not as diverse as some nearby areas. Can I let those who work in more diverse areas take responsibility for fair housing compliance in our region?
A: Fair housing law applies in all neighborhoods and residences in the country. Fair housing issues can and do arise in any and every neighborhood and city. Remembering this fact is key to ensuring that your agency is fulfilling its duty to affirmatively further fair housing.
What are some examples of how government actions have fair housing components?
A: Here are some situations that have been found to involve fair housing issues:
• zoning ordinances
• housing code enforcement
• allocation of housing subsidies to private and non-profit developers
• siting of housing developments, and
• setting boundaries for public water delivery systems.
How do code enforcement and fair housing fit together?
A: There have been cases where an aggressive code enforcement campaign started soon after new immigrants began moving into a previously white segregated community. The campaign was alleged to be aimed at driving those new residents from their homes in violation of the FHAA and the city had to change its approach.
Are cities required to make changes or exceptions to city codes or ordinances for people with disabilities?
A: Yes. Cities are obligated to make reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities if it is necessary for that person to have equal enjoyment of his or her home. There is more information on reasonable accommodations here.
Our city inspectors have cited a homeowner who has a “garbage house” for being a dangerous fire hazard. The homeowner says that she has a disability. Does this mean we can’t enforce the safety codes?
A: No, but if the housing problem is related to the resident's disability, the city must cooperate with her request for a reasonable accommodation. A response to a request might involve reaching out for services to assist the resident, allowing a reasonable extension of time, focusing first on health and safety issues and permitting appearance items to be dealt with later.
I am the animal control officer for our township and I went to a training on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), so I should be good to go for anything that comes to me, right?
A: Not if it involves housing. Because housing is more personal than the public arena that the ADA covers, the FHAA gives residents and applicants a wider range of rights. For example, your rec center might require a service dog to have special training before being brought into the facility, but a mobile home community must allow companion animals without special training if necessary for the resident to deal with disabling anxiety. For more information see HUD's memo comparing obligations under the ADA and the FHA here.
I am a building inspector and the owner of a townhome asked me if he has to allow his tenant to build a ramp to the front door. Does he?
A: If the tenant needs a change like this to get in and out of the home, the owner has to allow a reasonable modification. The modification must meet building codes and the resident has to pay in most cases. For more information see HUD and DOJ's Joint Statement on Reasonable Modifications in our Library here.
I am a social worker and a client of mine needs a power door opener installed so they can get in and out of their apartment building. Can they get the owner to install a power door opener?
A: If the apartment building is wholly private - no public funding - the standard modification rules apply and the tenants cannot force the owner to pay. See the HUD/DOJ Joint Statement on Reasonable Modifications in our Library here. If it is public housing or housing that has government funding, such as Project-based Section 8 or 236 dollars, the owner will have to pay for accessibility fixes if the cost is not unreasonable. So, installing power doors is probably required, but building a new elevator in an existing building is not.
The police department in our city is committed to keeping it safe and peaceful for all residents. We’d like a “three strikes, you’re out” policy...
that would require owners to evict "problem tenants" who have repeated 911 calls at their homes. Anything wrong with that?
A: This is not easily answered and this can be an area with problems. First, Minnesota law creates limits on this by saying that a resident cannot be penalized for calling for emergency services. Second, women are more than 80% of domestic abuse victims, so enforcement of the policy might be a bad idea and be a form of illegal sex discrimination. Third, if disabilities are involved, reasonable accommodation requests must be considered. Finally, policies like this might be initiated in response to a changing population or applied unequally, so other fair housing concerns may arise.
Do fair housing laws require landlords and the police to overlook drug and alcohol abuse and the resulting effects on the community?
A: Fair housing laws do not exempt tenants from obeying state and federal laws. However, there may be a responsibility to accommodate or assist tenants or prospective tenants whose addictions qualify as a disability.
I inspect apartments for the city for code compliance. If I hear tenants asking questions about fair housing issues, what should I tell them?
A: Your department should have a good resource and referral file, such as the one on www.fairhousingmn.org. When you hear about discrimination, the department should refer the victim of discrimination to advocates and agencies who can help her. It's a good idea to discuss this with your team. Responding to housing discrimination in the field is a way to make the community better for all and to comply with deferral law.
Are we required to have all of our documents and notices in different languages?
A: Agencies with federal funds must have a Limited English Proficiency policy. This means identifying the most important communications and the most likely limited English speakers and figuring out a way to communicate. Failure to do so may be national origin discrimination. You can find more LEP resources and guidance in our Library here.
Some of my social service clients say that their landlords threaten to report that they are undocumented. Is this discrimination?
A: This is something that can be a sign of discrimination. The law is clear: even people who are undocumented cannot be discriminated against because of their national origin. And many times the households will include U.S. citizens and people who are here without legal authorization. After 9-11-01, the federal government addressed the problem of discrimination against new immigrants in a memo. ICE, the immigration service, has stated policies that give some protection to people who step forward with civil rights and other complaints. So just because a landlord calls ICE does not mean that ICE will show up. But it is a real problem that undocumented people are rightly afraid of deportation.
Is it legal to discriminate on the basis of age? We have lots of college students in our area...
A: Only in St. Paul and in some federally funded programs is age discrimination in housing forbidden. But that is different from "familial status" discrimination.
So what is “familial status” discrimination?
A: Familial status discrimination is treating families with minor children differently than households without children and it is, for the most part, illegal. "No kids" policies, or practices like restricting families with toddlers to the first floor only, are usually illegal. It may also be illegal for a building to have a policy that limits the number of residents in a unit without legitimate justification.
Is it ever okay for a housing provider to refuse to rent to families with children?
A: Yes, housing set aside for elderly people can legally refuse to rent to families with children if it is established and run correctly. You can find out about what is required to meet that exemption here.
I work with some families who receive Section 8 vouchers and have a hard time finding landlords who will accept them. Can landlords refuse to accept Section 8 vouchers?
It depends. Although "status with regard to public assistance" is protected under Minnesota laws, the Minnesota courts have found that a private housing provider can choose to not participate in the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program. Minneapolis and St. Paul and Duluth ordinances are similar and may be interpreted in the same way. However, some buildings with tax credits and other government funds may not reject vouchers used by qualified tenants.