Fair Housing Frequently Asked Questions

1).  Applicant listed 2 dogs on their application.  At the lease signing the applicant informed the landlord of an additional service animal(dog).  Applicant was only allowed 2 animals on the application.  Therefore, is the applicant fraudulent since they lied on the application and can they be denied? 

An assistance animal is not considered a pet and therefore any pet rules would not be applicable. The rule regarding two animals would apply to the two dogs that are pets, but would not apply to the third dog that is an assistance animal.

2).  Why can insurance companies red line where premiums are higher in the older inner city?

There are many factors that determine eligibility and rates for insurance, so each situation needs to be evaluated on a case by case basis. If you notice inequities (large disparities in coverage acceptance or rates) for similar homes in different neighborhoods, please let The Fair Housing Center know.

 

3).  How can a landlord ensure a service animal is trained and/or licensed?

Under the Fair Housing Act, assistance animals DO NOT need to be trained or certified. The only documentation necessary is a letter or form from the tenant’s doctor/therapist/social worker/etc. verifying that the tenant has a disability and has a need for an assistance animal. The animal itself does not need to have any paperwork. You can require that animals follow any local laws regarding vaccinations and licensing (ex. in Lucas County, dogs must be licensed and have a rabies vaccine).

 

4).  Is the landlord required to accept more than 1 service animal per person?

There is no limit to the number of assistance animals a person may have. However, they would need verification from their doctor/therapist/social worker/etc. for each animal. Also, you are still required to follow local regulations regarding health/safety/building codes, and the tenant is still responsible for cleaning up after the animal(s).

 

5).  Is The Fair Housing Center an independent private non-profit organization?

Yes we are a private, nonprofit 501(c)3 organization.

 

6).  How is the FHC funded?

Historically we have been funded primarily by government grants, including FHIP grants from HUD and CDBG funding from the City of Toledo. These are competitive grants that we apply for every year. As a nonprofit, we also accept donations from individuals and organizations.

 

7).  What does “regarded to have a disability” mean?  Individuals just claim to have a disability, without diagnosis?  How is “Regarded” verified?

It means someone who you may believe has a disability (perhaps because they exhibit certain characteristics or behaviors) but they do not actually have a disability. It doesn’t need to be verified; if you treat someone differently/unfairly because you believe they have a disability, they are protected the same as if they actually had a disability.

 

8).  Does Fair Housing send out “Testers” to see if will qualify to rent a property?

Testers are tools used as part of the investigative process to determine if discrimination is occurring. Testers are like secret shoppers for fair housing; they pose as potential renters or buyers but are actually just fact finders. They are trained and do not receive any information about the case. If two testers are sent to the same location and they are treated differently or are given different information, it might be an indicator of discriminatory practices. For example, if we suspect a landlord is refusing to rent to families with children, we would send out one tester with children and one without children to inquire about the same apartment. If one of them is told the apt is available and the other one is told there are no apts available, it could be a sign of discrimination.

 

9).  If a disabled person living in a second floor unit wants to live on the first floor–do you have to throw the first floor tenant out?

No you do not have to evict the first floor tenant. You can offer the tenant with a disability a first floor apt when one becomes available. If the current first floor tenant is willing to move/swap units, that would be entirely their choice. 

 

10).  One house with 2 apartments and one water meter.  Can you say the water bill is divided by the total number of people living in the building regardless of age, etc?  For example:  3 people up and 2 down can you divide the water bill by 5 and charge up 3/5ths and the down 2/5ths?

Charing fees or utilities based on the number of people in the household has a disparate impact on families with children (even if there are not currently children living there, this policy in general would have a discriminatory impact). You can charge the same fee to each unit/apartment. You could also charge fees based on the size of the apartment—ex. a 2 bedroom could be charged more than a 1 bedroom.

 

11).  Given that one of the goals of Fair Housing is to afford more stable housing (i.e. home ownership are you actively supporting the efforts to stop bills that limit land contracts and other bills that make it difficult to purchase homes?

Generally speaking, we are supportive of legislation that makes homeownership more accessible, creates greater equity in the landlord-tenant relationship, and promotes stable, vibrant neighborhoods. We advocate for consumers (tenants, home buyers) and support policies that protect their rights and make our neighborhoods stronger.

 

12).  If other tenants are bothered by the barking, talking parrot at all hours what can a landlord do?  Also allergies of tenants already in the building?

You can enforce rules regarding noise/disturbing other tenants (such policies should be in writing and distributed to all tenants). Inform the tenant that there have been complaints and give them the opportunity to address the problem. Document the complaints and any correspondence you have with tenants. 

You can’t refuse to allow someone to have an assistance animal because someone else has an allergy. Explore options—ex. can the animal be contained within the apartment, where other tenants would not be affected? Can the tenant with an allergy move to another unit that is further away? 

 

13).  What about murderers and sex offenders?

All housing providers should develop a criminal history screening policy, put it in writing, and follow it consistently when screening applicants. When looking at someone’s criminal record, you will compare their offense(s) to your policy. Each housing provider will have their own criminal history screening policy, but HUD provides the following guidelines that any policy should adhere to:

  1. Shorter look back period (ideally 1-3 years)

  2. Case by case evaluation of the nature of the offense (ex. is it relevant to their tenancy?)

  3. Consideration of mitigating circumstances (ex. applicant has completed rehabilitation programs, etc.)

  4. Use of conviction records, not arrest records

You are NOT permitted to have a blanket ban (restricting all people who have any kind of criminal record). The only convictions that you can have a permanent ban on include lifetime registered sex offenders and someone who has been convicted of the manufacturing of meth.

 

14).  What can be done about tenant vs tenant harassment?  Can anything be done?

Establish an anti-harassment policy, put it in writing, distribute it to tenants, and enforce it consistently. If and when a tenant violates the policy, document the incident (witness statements, texts, phone calls, emails, photos, videos, etc) and follow your policy regarding actions to be taken when rules are not followed.

 

15).  What if I have the choice of 2 tenants, one is more qualified, the other has a disability. Do I have the right to select the more qualified tenant?

You are allowed to use neutral criteria to determine which applicant you select (ex. income, credit, rental history). You don’t have to select the tenant with a disability simply because they have a disability, but the fact that they have a disability can’t be the reason you deny them (same with any other protected class).

 

16).  Would Fair Housing support a legislative initiative to help prevent the massive amount of abuse with Emotional Support Animals? (For example, you can go to an out of state website and for $30.00 you can get an Emotional Support Animal Certificate so a lot of certificates are coming from “Credential Mills”)

A housing provider can require that the verification of a tenant’s disability and verification of the tenant’s need for an assistance animal comes from a “qualified third party” (someone who actually treats the tenant and can speak to their condition). Buying a certificate online from a third party that has never met or treated the tenant would not be a “qualified third party.” 

Our support of legislation would depend on its language and intent—we can’t lend our support to any legislation without first reviewing it. We are open to discussing the issue, but ultimately our mission is to support the rights of tenants and homebuyers to ensure fair and equal access to housing (just as PIN’s mission is to advocate for the rights of property owners).  

 

17).  How do investors juggle the service animal and emotional support animal issue when insurance companies prohibit certain breeds?

One of the things to consider to determine if a request is reasonable is whether it would cause “an undue financial or administrative burden.” If you can provide documentation that either your insurance company would refuse to provide coverage, or your rates would increase considerably, you might be able to assert “undue financial burden” when addressing the request for an assistance animal that is prohibited by your insurance company. However, the insurance company’s policy may violate fair housing regulations by prohibiting certain breeds, so we would highly recommend informing our agency so we can look into the insurance company’s practices.

 

18)  What if someone wants to rent my house, but they are just rude and “Not a nice person.”  What protects me if they claim I discriminated against them?

Nothing prevents anyone from claiming discrimination—this is an equal right we are all entitled to. However, in order for a complaint to move forward and be successful, there would have to be evidence of discrimination. One person’s statement/allegation without any evidence to support it would not likely result in a complaint being filed. A best practice is to treat every applicant the same and use neutral criteria to determine their eligibility. 

 

19).  Can we ask who is going to clean up after assistance animals?

You can require that the tenant clean up after their assistance animal. This should be documented in your polices and your tenant should be informed. As long as the tenant is aware of the policy, it is up to them as to whether they will take care of it themselves or have someone else assist them (family, caretaker, etc).

 

20).  How are what do you do to revitalize a neighborhood when you receive a large settlement? 

In 2014 we received a more than $1.4 million settlement from Wells Fargo for failure to maintain REO properties in communities of color. With these funds, we created the MLK Inclusive Communities program which included financial support to homeowners facing foreclosure (assistance with mortgage payments, property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, and lien elimination), a partnership with the Land Bank to replace 150 roofs, and a partnership with The Ability Center to provide nearly 50 homeowners with home accessibility modifications (grab bars, chair lifts, etc.).

 

21).  If a potential client has a rental history where their service animal caused damage in a previous rental can they be denied?

Disability protection does not extend to people who are a direct threat, which means either damaging property or harming other tenants. The denial should be based on the fact that they have a record of property damage, rather than being based on the fact that they have a disability and/or an assistance animal.

 

22).  Are landlords liable for renting to illegal immigrants like employers are?

We’re not aware of any laws that would apply, but this is really a legal question that should be directed to an attorney that is familiar with immigration law. There are not any fair housing laws that would hold a landlord liable for renting to an undocumented immigrant, but there might be other laws that are applicable. Some states and municipalities have passed laws regulating this practice, but we’re not aware of any local laws in our area. (In fact, Lucas County was recently designated as certified welcoming by Welcoming America, so it is highly unlikely that you would see this type of legislation be supported locally.) 

Knowing a tenant’s immigration status is really only necessary if they are applying for federally subsidized housing, where it is part of the eligibility criteria. For private housing, immigration status is not typically relevant. As with your other policies and practices, consistency is important, so the eligibility criteria you use as part of the application process should be fair (based on objective criteria like income and rental history) and consistently applied to every applicant (ex. if you ask about immigration status, you are asking every applicant). Also, remember that although immigration status is not a protected class under the Fair Housing Act, national origin, race, and religion are protected, so the tenant would still have rights under those protections (ex. if you are targeting people that are Mexican or Muslim, they would be protected whether or not they are documented immigrants).

 

23).  Would making land contracts so restrictive that it basically eliminated them qualify as a disparate impact issue as a higher percentage of minority and lower income buyers utilize land contracts?

Policies are considered to have a disparate impact if they disproportionately affect a protected class, whether or not discrimination was intentional. This typically refers to banks that refuse to offer home loans below a certain value or insurance companies that refuse to provide coverage if the home is below a certain value or above a certain age, all of which negatively affect neighborhoods of color that have been historically disinvested as a result of discriminatory practices, and therefore tend to have older, lower value homes. 

Land contracts can be one tool to enable homeownership (along with traditional mortgages) but only when they are used fairly. There is some evidence to suggest land contracts can be predatory, because the tenants can pay high prices and are responsible for repairs and maintenance, but often end up facing eviction and therefore do not gain the intended benefits (homeownership, equity, etc). While this may not apply to all instances of land contracts, evidence of these issues has been used to support lawsuits filed in other jurisdictions (outside Toledo/Lucas County) arguing that land contracts themselves, because of their predatory nature and tendency to be targeted towards neighborhoods of color, can have a disparate impact. The question presented here seems to argue the opposite; that restricting land contracts has a disparate impact because it limits homeownership in neighborhoods of color. That would be an unusual legal theory based on the current cases that have been filed, but if you could find statistics to support that theory, you could make that argument.  

Generally speaking, fair housing organizations and advocates are going to support traditional home loans, which means working with local banks to ensure they keep bank branches open, offer loan products with flexible terms, and actively reach out to potential homebuyers, in order to make homeownership more accessible in traditionally underserved communities. Improving access to credit is the best approach to stabilize our neighborhoods and increase homeownership for those who have historically faced barriers to equal opportunity.