Let’s face it, rejection hurts. I’m not just talking about when you asked the pretty girl for a date and she laughed at you. What about the circumstance where you felt qualified for an opportunity but you were denied anyway? Let’s be honest, this kind of thing happens. And it would be understandable to be boiling mad. Let’s look at some of the details to see if there are reasonable remedies.
First we are going to confine our discussion about discrimination in housing, specifically rental housing. Discrimination can occur in other areas too, like in employment, academics, lending and other areas, but for brevity, we will stick to rental housing.
Housing discrimination is governed by the Federal Housing Act, which established seven protected classes. Some states like Wisconsin have provided for additional protected classes and there are even protections at the county or municipal government level. Again, for brevity, we will limit our discussion to protections at the Federal and State level.
A Protected Class refers to a group of people that the law has specifically protected against housing discrimination. The Federal Housing Act (FHA) established seven protected classes, including race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status. Most of these are obvious, but two merit further explanation, disability and familial status.
Under FHA, disability is defined to mean a disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as walking, talking, seeing, hearing, breathing, working, learning or caring for one’s self. The disability does not have to be obvious or require assistive devices. Nor does the disability have to be physical – mental illness, chronic fatigue, cognitive impairment and learning disabilities all fall within the FHA definition of disabled. Further, even addictions can be disabilities as well, but within limits. The disabled person does not benefit from FHA protections if the individual poses a direct threat to other’s health and safety or poses a threat of property damage. As a practical matter, if an individual has an addiction but they also have credit and criminal problems, declining from renting would not be illegal discrimination under FHA.
Familial status refers to those protections extended to families with children. Certain senior housing opportunities are exempted from these protections. Otherwise, landlords may not decline to rent because the applicant has children. Further, the property owner should not be charging extra based upon the number of children in the dwelling. However, the landlord may set reasonable occupancy standards.
Many Menomonee Falls apartment landlords have developed a standard of two people per bedroom. This is the standard at Decker Properties, Inc. However, at Decker Properties, infants are not counted toward the occupancy limit until they reach the age of two. As an example, this would mean that one adult, three minor children and a 23-month-old infant would be qualified to rent a two-bedroom Menomonee Falls apartment.
In Wisconsin, there are additional protected classes, including sexual orientation; marital status; status as a victim of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking; lawful source of income, age (at least 18) and ancestry. Again, some of these are self-explanatory but others, such victims of domestic abuse and lawful source of income, merit further explanation. Briefly, housing cannot be denied a person as a function of their status as a current or past victim of domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking. Further, all legal sources of income, including government assistance of any kind, unemployment, disability payments, etc. should be counted toward any income standard the property owner has uniformly adopted.
Now having had a discussion about what legal protections are available, we need to explore what to do in the event that you feel your rights have been violated. For those answers, please come back to this blog for the next posting.