Overview of Fair Housing Law

Covered Properties

Fair Housing laws (federal, state, and local) apply to all residential property, including but not limited to:

  • houses (including both single and doubles)
  • apartment buildings
  • condominiums
  • mobile homes
  • assisted living facilities/nursing homes

Covered Transactions

Fair Housing laws can apply in all facets of these real-estate related transactions:

  • renting
  • buying
  • selling
  • applying for a loan
  • appraisal services
  • homeowner’s insurance

Protected Persons

Everyone is protected by Fair Housing law. Following is a listing of the protected classes in Shaker Heights: 

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin or ancestry
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Disability (physical or mental)
  • Familial status (children under the age of 18, or if you are expecting a child)
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity or expression
  • Military status

Discriminatory Housing Practice

A discriminatory housing practice can occur when a housing provider (such as a landlord, management company, or homeowners association in a condo building) does any of the following based on someone’s race, color, national origin/ancestry, religion, sex, disability, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression or military status:

  • Refuses to sell, rent or negotiate for the sale or rental of a house, apartment or condo
  • Otherwise makes housing unavailable
  • Discriminates in the terms or conditions for buying or renting a house or apartment
  • Makes discriminatory statements – or shows a preference or limitation – for a person based on their protected class (verbal or written statements)
  • Lies about the availability of a house or apartment
  • Blockbusting (applies in sales): when someone, for a profit, tries to get a homeowner to list their house for sale by representing that a certain racial or ethnic group is moving into the area and negative things are occurring (such as crime rising, quality of education dropping, property values decreasing). 
  • Steering (applies in both rental and sales): limiting the choice of the buyer or renter based on protected class, such as showing African Americans homes in predominantly minority neighborhoods, or directing families with kids to lower-quality apartment units.
  • Coerces, intimidates, threatens or interferes with anyone exercising, or encouraging others to exercise, rights granted under the Fair Housing laws

Special Provisions for Persons with Disabilities

Discriminatory acts directed at persons with disabilities can include denials of requests for either a reasonable accommodation or modification. Typically these are seen in rentals, but they can also occur in an owner-occupied unit (especially in condominiums): 

Reasonable Accommodation

This is a request by a tenant or condo owner for an accommodation to the housing provider’s regular rules, policies or procedures to enable that person to fully use and enjoy the dwelling (e.g. assign a close parking spot for person with mobility impairment, allow service or therapy animal even if there is a “no pet” policy, give a “reminder call” for rent being due to person with traumatic brain injury). These are just a few examples. The request is specific to the individual with a disability and the individual must show the connection between the accommodation and the disability. 

Reasonable Modification

This is a request by a tenant, or condo owner, for permission to make a physical change or modification to the property that enables the person to fully use and enjoy the dwelling  (e.g. installation of ramp, with City approvals; installation of grab bars in shower/tub area; widen doorway into bathroom for wheelchair user; strobe light smoke detector for hearing impaired person). In some cases the expense of the modification is the tenant’s; in other cases (such as common areas) the housing provider may have to bear the cost. 

Requesting an Accommodation or Modification

A tenant has the right to ask for a reasonable accommodation or modification. While such requests do not need to be in writing, it is highly recommended that such requests be in a written form. The tenant should keep a copy of such requests. The request should state: (1) that the tenant has a disability affecting one or more major life activities; (2) that the tenant is requesting either a modification or accommodation; and (3) the requested accommodation or modification should be described. 

Responding to the Request

A housing provider is advised not to ignore requests for accommodations or modifications. Remember that a request can be either verbal or written, and it can be made by either the tenant, or someone else, such as a relative, social worker or medical professional. If a housing provider has some reason to doubt the veracity of the need for an accommodation or modification, the housing provider can request further information to confirm the existence of a disability. The tenant should then provide information from a medical or mental health care professional (e.g. a doctor, nurse, psychologist, therapist, social worker, etc.).