“Fair housing complaints have been steady,” said Adrian Garcia, PHRC’s director of fair housing and commercial property division. “With the pandemic, you might have thought there would have been a slowdown, but our regional offices are reporting that complaints have been steady.” (2019, 106 Housing complaints filed; 2020, 201 housing complaints filed)
Disability complaints particularly related to emotional support animals have increased, Garcia said. “More people reported that their requests to have an emotional support animal in their rental property have been denied. We may be seeing more of this because the pandemic has caused additional emotional and/or mental impairment – people are more isolated than they were before. After talking with their doctor, they may find that having a support animal helps improve their day-to-day living.”
Garcia said fair housing complaints due to familial status have also remained one of the most common. “We’ve seen cases where people are being charged an additional fee per child and that’s direct evidence of disparate treatment,” he added.
“We also find cases of real estate professionals wanting to make decisions for parents instead of allowing them to make the decision based on their own needs,” Garcia said. “For example, a well-intentioned landlord may steer parents to a first-floor apartment because of the children. Or may decide that the potential tenants should opt for more bedrooms based on the number of children they have. In each of these cases, the tenants should be allowed to make the decision for themselves based on their needs.”
Real estate professionals should stay informed and continue to get fair housing education. “If you have questions, reach out to the PHRC or PAR’s Legal Hotline so you can make sure you’re providing fair treatment,” he said.
“It’s important to develop neutral language when talking with clients to avoid misinterpretation,” Garcia said. “Questions like ‘Is this a safe neighborhood?’ and ‘Is this home in a good school district?’ can lead to answers that can be considered steering. Instead, urge clients to do their own research on schools and neighborhoods, so they’re familiar with the area and can determine what best meets their needs.”
The national Fair Housing Act was written with two goals: ending housing discrimination and promoting diverse, inclusive communities. “Enforcement of the fair housing act alone doesn’t ensure that people have housing opportunities,” Garcia said.
“The second goal is referred to as the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing,” Garcia explained. “This is often overlooked but was a provision to encourage HUD programs and funding recipients to expand housing choices in all neighborhoods providing more opportunities. In 2015, AFFH looked at what actions counties and cities were taking to ensure they were diversifying their neighborhoods and housing. This is an important part of the act to make municipalities more accountable in providing more fair housing choices and opportunities.”
“Do not be blindly following customers instructions,” said Desiree Brougher, a PAR attorney. “As a license, you are held to a higher standard of knowledge and behavior. Your job is to educate your clients and sometimes other Realtors® on fair housing laws. If your client is not willing to follow fair housing laws, it is OK to drop them.”
“If an agent is treating one person better than another similarly situated person, and the difference between them is one of the seven categories in the Fair Housing Act, the agent has violated the law,” said Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Bill Dedman in a webinar with Pennsylvania Realtors®.