On April 25, 2013, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released new guidance regarding “service animals” and “assistance animals” for people with disabilities. The notice, signed by HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity John Trasviña, explains housing providers’ obligations under the Fair Housing Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to provide reasonable accommodations to persons with disabilities who have assistance animals. It further discusses the Department of Justice’s 2010 revised definition of “service animals” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as situations where each law is applicable.
The memo notes that the Fair Housing Act’s requirements apply “regardless of the presence of Federal financial assistance.” Section 504, by contrast, applies only to recipients of financial assistance from HUD.
Under both laws, housing providers must make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities who need assistance animals. Unlike ”service animals” under the ADA, “assistance animals” under the Fair Housing Act and Section 504 are not required to be individually trained or certified. Moreover, the memo notes that “breed, size and weight limitations may not be applied to an assistance animal,” although a housing provider may deny a request for an assistance animal where
(1) the specific assistance animal in question poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others that cannot be reduced or eliminated by another reasonable accommodation, or (2) the specific assistance animal in question would cause substantial physical damage to the property of others that cannot be reduced or eliminated by another reasonable accommodation.
To read HUD’s guidance, click here.
Registration is open for the 2013 Fair Housing Conference being sponsored by the Fair Housing Project and the Raleigh Fair Housing Hearing Board. The conference will be held on Friday, April 26, 2013, from 8 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., with breakfast and lunch being provided. This year’s conference will be held at the Raleigh Convention Center, located at 500 S. Salisbury Street, Raleigh, NC 27601.
The keynote speaker will be Bryan Greene, General Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Additional panels at the conference will be:
“Building Bridges: Supportive Housing and Communities of Color”
Expanding the availability of housing for disabled persons improves and enriches the lives not only of residents but of our cities in general as well. Are all communities being equally affected by the expansion of such housing opportunities? This plenary will discuss how communities of color and supportive housing providers and residents can better work together to increase the availability of needed supportive housing. It will also address fair housing issues and concerns.
“Overcoming Criminal Records as a Barrier to Housing”
Criminal history policies in North Carolina have created substantial barriers to affordable housing for adults and juveniles with criminal records; which can range from charges that were dismissed to misdemeanor and felony convictions. This workshop will discuss how these policies have isolated individuals from affordable housing (focusing on the disproportionate impact upon African American and Latino persons) and how requiring reasonable limitations on criminal history policies can reduce barriers to successful re-entry.
“New Perspectives: Housing Challenges Faced by African and Asian Immigrants”
Census data reveal that North Carolina is becoming more diverse, with a greater number of both Asian and African immigrants. This workshop will discuss housing problems experienced by these immigrant communities. Panelists will focus on cultural and language barriers, the unique challenges these communities face in North Carolina, and successful attempts to address housing discrimination against them.
Pre-registration in required, and attendees must be 18 years or older. Register online or download a registration form by visiting the City of Raleigh’s conference registration page. There is a non-refundable registration fee.
Early registration (before April 12) is $10 for Wake County residents and $25 for non-Wake County residents.
Late registration is $15 for Wake County residents and $30 for non-Wake County residents.
For more information on the conference, contact Stacey Lundy at the City of Raleigh or Jewette Williams at the Fair Housing Project.
On February 8, 2013, HUD announced that it was publishing a new rule implementing the Fair Housing Act’s discriminatory effects (“disparate impact”) standard. While in most cases an individual bringing a complaint under the Fair Housing Act must show that the opposing party acted with an intent to discriminate, under the disparate impact theory, an individual instead may show that a challenged act or rule has a discriminatory effect based on a prohibited ground. The rule, published in the Federal Register on February 15, will take effect on March 18, 2013.
In a press release announcing the new rule, HUD stated that it was
statutorily charged with the authority and responsibility for interpreting and enforcing the Fair Housing Act and has long interpreted the Act to prohibit housing practices with an unjustified discriminatory effect, if those acts actually or predictably result in a disparate impact on a group of persons, or create, increase, reinforce, or perpetuate segregated housing patterns because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.
In addition, the agency noted that all 11 federal courts of appeals that have considered the issue have found that individuals may prove a case by proving a disparate impact in certain instances.
Issuing a disparate impact rule had been on HUD’s regulatory agenda for many years. The proposed rule had been published on November 16, 2011, and received 96 public comments by a wide variety of groups, including fair housing and legal aid organizations, state and local fair housing agencies, state Attorneys General, state housing finance agencies, public housing agencies, insurance companies, mortgage lenders, real estate agents, law firms, and others.
Click here to view the new rule.
A study published in the January 2013 issue of the medical journal JAMA Surgery finds that African Americans have higher lung cancer mortality rates than whites and that African Americans who live in the most segregated counties in the U.S. have 20% higher mortality rates than African Americans who live in less segregated counties. By contrast, whites who live in more segregated areas have 6% lower mortality rates from lung cancer than whites living in less segregated areas. The gap in outcomes persisted even after accounting for differences in smoking rates and socio-economic status
According to a New York Times article describing the study,
The study was the first to look at segregation as a factor in lung cancer mortality. Its authors said they could not fully explain why it worsens the odds of survival for African-Americans, but hypothesized that blacks in more segregated areas may be less likely to have health insurance or access to health care and specialty doctors. It is also possible that lower levels of education mean they are less likely to seek care early, when medical treatment could make a big difference. Racial bias in the health care system might also be a factor.
Lung cancer is the top cause of preventable death in the United States. Blacks have the highest incidence of it and are also more likely to die from it. For every million black males, 860 will die from lung cancer, compared with 620 among every million white males. The rates were calculated over the period of the study, from 2003 to 2007.
To read the New York Times article on the study, click here. To read the abstract of the JAMA Surgery study, click here.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that it had settled a discrimination complaint with Bank of America for allegedly refusing to provide a mortgage loan to a lesbian couple from Florida. According to a press release issued by HUD, the agreement is the first enforcement action taken against a lender involving HUD’s recent rule requiring that the HUD’s “core housing programs” be open to all eligible persons, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.
Under the terms of the agreement, Bank of America will pay HUD $7,500; notify its residential mortgage loan originators, processors, and underwriters of its Settlement Agreement with HUD; remind its employees that they are prohibited from discriminating against FHA-loan applicants on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status; and update its fair lending training program to include information on HUD’s rule.
HUD issued its rule regarding LGBT gender equality in February 2012. The rule applies to all housing programs administered by the Department, including lenders who issue loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). Among other things, the rule prohibits such lenders from basing eligibility determinations for mortgage loans on actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.
Commenting on the settlement in the press release, HUD General Counsel Helen Kanovsky stated: “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 marital status.” John Trasviña, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, added,
“The HUD Equal Access Rule means just what it says: one’s sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status is not a legitimate basis on which to deny a mortgage. Members of the housing industry should take note of this settlement agreement. HUD will enforce its regulations to make sure its programs are truly open to all qualified families.”
HUD claimed Bank of America denied a loan to a Florida couple seeking to obtain an FHA-insured mortgage because of their sexual orientation and marital status. Because one partner was not employed, the applicant enlisted her partner’s mother as a co-applicant on the loan. The couple worked with BOA for several weeks to provide all of the necessary loan application documents and the couple was assured by BOA that they were likely to receive a mortgage. One business day prior to closing, BOA denied the mortgage because it did not consider the loan applicant and the co-applicant directly related because the applicant and her partner were not married. As a result of BOA’s actions, the couple was not able to close on the loan.
To read HUD’s press release regarding this settlement, click here. To read HUD’s rule on Equal Access to Housing in HUD Programs Regardless of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, click here.
The Fair Housing Project of Legal Aid of North Carolina is currently accepting applications for a new bilingual (English and Spanish) staff attorney position. Application materials are due by January 1, 2013. Visit the Legal Aid website here to view the full job description.
On November 14, 2012, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) and the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) announced that they had settled a housing discrimination lawsuit with HHHunt Corporation, a Virginia-based real estate development company that operates apartment complexes in North Carolina, among other states. According to the press release announcing the settlement, HHHunt ”agreed to retrofit inaccessible features” at nine apartment complexes located in Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. The retrofits wil be completed within the next three years to ensure that the 1,247 units meet federal accessiblity requirements.
As stated in the press release:
The agreement settles claims by NFHA and PVA that HHHunt engaged in a continuous pattern or practice of discrimination against people with disabilities since 2002 by designing and/or constructing multifamily dwellings, and common- and public-use areas, without required accessibility features. Claims remain against J. Davis Architects, PLLC, which designed one or more of the complexes. The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability or familial status.
The apartment complexes with alleged violations in North Carolina are: Abberly Place in Garner, NC; Auston Grove in Raleigh, NC; Abberly Green-Mooresville in Mooresville, NC; and Auston Woods in Charlotte, NC.
To read the full press release, click here.
On October 15, 2012, five Detroit residents and Michigan Legal Services sued Morgan Stanley for discriminating against African American homeowners by “providing strong incentives to a subprime lender to originate mortgages that were likely to be foreclosed on.” In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs are asking the court to certify a class action that could have as many as 6,000 Detroit residents. The plaintiffs are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), and the law firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein.
According to a press release announcing the lawsuit,
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in New York, is the first that connects racial discrimination to the securitization of mortgage-backed securities, which were sold to institutional investors and pension funds. It is also the first case where a prospective class of victimized homeowners is suing an investment bank directly rather than the subprime lender whose loans the bank bought.
The five homeowners in the suit received their loans from now-defunct New Century Mortgage Corp., a one-time major player in subprime lending. As Morgan Stanley ramped up its mortgage-backed securities business starting in 2004, it became New Century’s largest buyer of subprime loans.
Morgan Stanley provided funds to New Century to originate the loans, and dictated the terms of the loans it wanted and ultimately purchased for its securitized pools. It pushed New Century to issue certain types of loans with no concern about risk, because it made its profit at the outset, when the securities were created and sold. Because minority residents of the Detroit region have been subjected to decades of housing and lending discrimination, and had fewer alternative sources of credit, they were natural targets for these predatory loans.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, and familial status in housing transactions, including mortgage lending. The lawsuit also alleges violations of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which bans discrimination for credit transactions, including consumer loans such as mortgages.
To read the press release announcing the lawsuit, click here. To read the complaint, click here.
On September 25, 2012, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) and five of its member organizations announced that they had filed a federal housing discrimination complaint against Bank of America Corporation, Bank of America, N.A., and BAC Home Loan Servicing, LP. The complaint, which was filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), alleges that Bank of America maintains and markets foreclosed homes in white neighborhoods in a much better manner than in African-American and Latino neighborhoods.
According to the press release announcing the filing:
Bank of America is one of the largest American banks that maintains and sells foreclosed properties and is one of the world’s largest financial institutions. The investigation of 373 foreclosed homes owned, serviced or managed by Bank of America demonstrates that the financial giant has engaged in a systemic practice of maintaining and marketing its foreclosed, bank-owned properties (also known as Real Estate Owned or REO properties) in a state of disrepair in communities of color while maintaining and marketing REO properties in predominantly White communities in a far superior manner. The investigation evaluated Bank of America REO properties in the eight metropolitan areas of Atlanta, GA; Dallas, TX; Dayton, OH; Grand Rapids, MI; Miami/Fort Lauderdale, FL; Oakland/Richmond/Concord, CA; Phoenix, AZ, and metropolitan Washington, DC.
The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability or familial status, including based on the race or national origin of residents of a neighborhood. This law applies to housing and housing-related activities, which include the maintenance, appraisal, listing, marketing and selling of homes.
The complaint was filed by NFHA, the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center in Dayton, OH; Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence, Inc. in Miami, FL; Metro Fair Housing Services in Atlanta, GA; the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan in Grand Rapids, MI and the North Texas Fair Housing Center in Dallas, TX. NFHA and the other complainant organizations are represented by Joseph M. Sellers and Peter Romer-Friedman of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC.
In April 2012, NFHA issued a report on the findings of its nationwide REO investigation of 1,000 REO homes nationwide, The Banks are Back, Our Neighborhoods are Not: Discrimination and Marketing of REO Properties. NFHA filed HUD administrative complaints against Wells Fargo and U.S. Bancorp in April 2012.
To read NFHA’s press release announcing the filing of the complaint, click here.
On September 25, 2012, the United States Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the owners and managers of a number of rental homes in Washington, NC, alleging that apartment manager William I. Cochran III discriminated against African American tenants.
According to the press release issued by the DOJ:
The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, names Cochran and three related corporate entities – EKP LLC, WRC LLC and Emlan Properties LLC – that own or owned the various properties managed by Cochran. The complaint alleges that Cochran delayed or refused to perform maintenance or repairs at properties rented by African-Americans and refused to credit them for repairs they paid for or made themselves; verbally harassed African-American tenants with racial slurs and epithets, having made statements indicating that he disfavored African-American tenants; and threatened, harassed and retaliated against African-American tenants who resisted his discriminatory housing practices.
The case began when a former tenant at one of Cochran’s properties contacted the Justice Department to report Cochran’s conduct. The department conducted an extensive investigation and then filed today’s lawsuit, which seeks an order prohibiting the defendants from engaging in future unlawful discrimination, and requiring the defendants to pay monetary damages to victims of their discrimination and civil penalties to the government.
To read the DOJ’s press release on the case, click here.