The top three fair housing-related complaints to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission in 2020-2021 were based on disability, race/color and retaliation, according to the PHRC’s 2021 Annual Report. Overall, there were 402 fair housing complaints filed with the PHRC.
Fair housing is guaranteed by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, which makes it illegal to discriminate against anyone because of race, religion, ancestry, disability, age, color, sex, national origin or familial status. The act protects people from retaliation, which means no one is allowed to take any action like eviction against someone for filing a complaint, opposing unlawful activity or helping with an investigation.
PHRC Executive Director Chad Dion Lassiter said bringing the Fair Housing Act to everyone’s attention has been one of the primary missions of the organization. “Housing is a right. People working in the housing industry need to reacquaint themselves with the Fair Housing Act. We want everyone to understand it – landlords, developers, real estate agents and appraisers. We need to help them understand that no one should be discriminated against when they’re trying to find housing.”
By far, the greatest number of housing discrimination complaints filed were due to disabilities with 224 cases, according to the report. The largest category was described generally as “other” with 110 complaints, followed by other emotional/psychiatric (17 complaints), mental – other (15 complaints), anxiety disorder (13 complaints) and post-traumatic stress (8 complaints).
“Violations related to the Americans With Disabilities Act look at making sure there is a wheelchair accessible ramp, the building is ADA-compliant, service/support animals are being accepted and they are making reasonable accommodations to a person with disabilities to live there,” Lassiter said.
Eighty-eight housing complaints due to race/color were filed with the PHRC. The report showed that the largest majority of complaints were based on discrimination of African Americans/Black (60).
There were 77 housing-related retaliation complaints, primarily due to “otherwise opposed unlawful activity.” Lassiter noted that “unlawful activity” can refer to multiple issues. “If someone reports a plumbing leak, faulty wiring, the presence of asbestos, rodents, they should not be retaliated against because they reported this,” he said. “And this retaliation can take the form of landlords or property managers potentially engaging in inappropriate conduct with a resident so they can keep their housing.”
The PHRC report showed there were 36 fair housing discrimination cases based on gender, 22 of which were female.
Fair housing complaints due to familial status accounted for 29 complaints. The largest number of complaints were due to discrimination against someone because of an individual under 18 living with parents or a guardian.
There were 16 fair housing violations due to age discrimination, a majority of which were people over the age of 70 years.
The state also saw 13 discrimination complaints due to religion, with Islam and Judaism for half of the complaints.
“It’s important that consumers understand their rights. If someone believes they’ve been discriminated against, they should file a complaint with the PHRC,” Lassiter said. “We’ve seen the number of complaints go up during the pandemic. And when we talk with clients, we try to look at the entire narrative of the complaint. We pay attention to their mental and physical health, because if they’ve been displaced, they may have to cope with living in their car or a bus station, they may have food insecurities and lack health insurance. Housing discrimination leaves people in a state of despair and hopelessness.”
The PHRC offers training and workshops to address fair housing education. In addition, they sponsor PHRC Speaks, a program broadcast on PCNTV on the first and third Sundays of every month covering housing equality, understanding support animals, challenges with appraisal discrimination, redlining and gentrification.
Anyone who believes they have been discriminated against while trying to find housing should contact the PHRC.