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THE FAIR HOUSING ACT AND PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES

The Fair Housing Act

 

The Fair Housing Act, as amended in 1988 – also known as the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, or FHA for short – is a federal law that prohibits discrimination nationally in all types of housing transactions on the basis of disability, among other categories.  FHA defines equal opportunity to housing as a civil right for persons with disabilities and empowers the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to enforce the law’s provisions.

 

FHA’s Definition of a Person with a Disability

 

FHA defines persons with a disability to mean those individuals with mental or physical impairments that substantially limit one or more life activities.  The term “mental or physical impairment” may include conditions such as blindness, hearing impairment, mobility impairment, HIV infection, mental retardation, alcoholism, drug addition, chronic fatigue, learning disability, head injury, and mental illness.  The term “major life activity” may include seeing, hearing, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, caring for one’s self, learning, speaking, or working.

 

FHA also protects persons who have a record of such an impairment, or are regarded as having such an impairment.  Current users of illegal controlled substances, persons convicted of illegal manufacture or distribution of a controlled substance, sex offenders, and juvenile offenders are not considered disabled under FHA.  FHA affords no protections to individuals with or without disabilities who present a direct threat to the persons or property of others.  Determining whether someone poses such a direct threat must be made on an individualized basis, however, and cannot be based on general assumptions or speculation about the nature of a disability.

 

FHA and Discrimination

 

FHA makes it unlawful everywhere in the nation to discriminate in any aspect of selling or renting housing against a buyer or renter because of the disability of: (1) that individual, (2) an individual associated with the buyer or renter (for example, an individual filling out applications for rental units is accompanied by her child with a developmental disability), or (3) an individual who intends to live in the residence that will be purchased or rented (for example, a person is a looking for a two-bedroom apartment so that he can move in with him an elderly parent who uses a wheel chair and requires around-the-clock care).

 

Housing Covered Under FHA

 

FHA covers all types of housing:  (1) housing that receives Federal assistance (for instance, HUD grants); (2) State and local government housing (for example, public housing); and (3) private housing.

 

Housing Professionals FHA Applies To

FHA applies to all individuals, groups, or other entities involved in the sale, rental, or management of housing:  landlords and property managers; real-estate agents, salespersons, mortgage and other brokers, loan officers, home sellers; homeowner and tenant associations, co-op and condo boards; housing authorities.

 

FHA’s Requirements

 

FHA establishes three sets of requirements and rights to remove physical, procedural, and policy barriers to the acquisition and full enjoyment of housing by persons with disabilities:  (1) reasonable accommodations; (2) reasonable modifications; and (3) design and construction standards.

 

FHA requires housing providers (1) to make reasonable exceptions in their policies and operations to afford people with disabilities equal housing opportunities (reasonable accommodations) and (2) to allow tenants with disabilities to make reasonable access-related modifications to their private living space, as well as to common-use spaces (reasonable modifications).

 

FHA establishes seven design and construction accessibility requirements for new multifamily housing with four or more units, whether federally funded or in the private sector, built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991:

 

  • Accessible entrance on an accessible route
  • Accessible public and common-use areas
  • Usable doors
  • Accessible route into and through the dwelling unit
  • Accessible light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats, and environmental controls
  • Reinforced walls in bathrooms
  • Usable kitchens and bathrooms

 

TO REPORT A VIOLATION OF YOUR RIGHTS UNDER THE FAIR HOUSING ACT OR TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE FHA, CONTACT HUD’S HOUSING DISCRIMINATION HOTLINE AT 1-800-669-9777(VOICE) OR 1-800-927-9275 (TTY).

 

REFERENCES:

  • “7 Design & Construction Requirements,” U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • A Guide to Disability Rights Law, U.S. Department of Justice, September 2005
  • “The Fair Housing Act,” U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Housing and Civil Enforcement Section, http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/housing/housing_coverage.htm