TENANT LAWS: DISCRIMINATION

TENANT LAWS: DISCRIMINATION

Discrimination not only hurts you, it hurts your neighbors as well!

If you think you have been discriminated against, you may be entitled to compensation for your stress and inconvenience even if you no longer want the house or apartment.

The Fair Housing Act, together with state and local housing laws, provide protection against discrimination based on race, color, gender (including sexual harassment), age, national origin, religion, familial status, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, source of income, sexual orientation, and marital status.

If you have been the victim of discrimination you can file a complaint online with HUD or contact TURN to speak with a counselor.

What does it look like?
You may have been discriminated against without knowing it.

It may be disguised by concern or excessive kindness but is no less destructive. Sometimes words alone can show an illegal intent. You may have experienced discrimination if you have looked for a new place to live and heard comments like these:

“Sorry, boy and girl children must be in separate rooms.”

“You can’t have our first floor apartment just because you are disabled.”

“It’s not me, but the neighbors don’t like those people visiting here.”

“This is a quiet building. We don’t want kids here.”

“You don’t want to live in that neighborhood. It’s a high crime area.”

“Well, baby, if you can’t pay the rent, maybe we could work ‘something’ out.”

“It’s no longer available,” or “I rented it right after you called.”

Housing discrimination comes in many forms:

  • Providing different services or prices
  • Any form of pressure or intimidation
  • Retaliation for exercising your rights
  • Zoning to keep certain people out
  • Sexual harassment
  • Illegal advertising
  • Discrimination among realtors
  • Block busting
  • Mortgage lending discrimination
  • Private mortgage insurance-sales
  • Secondary mortgage buying
  • Aiding fair housing violations
Domestic Violence

Many landlords discriminate against domestic violence victims.

Sometimes it is because of sexism and arrogance. However, it is sometimes believed that when violent confrontations between a couple result in disturbing neighbors or the police being called, both tenants should be evicted. Of course this just compounds the suffering of the person being abused.

Federal, state and local Philadelphia laws prohibit housing discrimination against women.

These laws not only prohibit discrimination based upon gender, they also prohibit housing policies which tend to hurt women more than men (i.e. policies which have a “disparate impact’ on women). Evicting or refusing to rent to a woman because she is or has been the victim of domestic violence are examples of such a policies.

In June of 2011, Councilmember Bill Greenlee introduced an amendment  to the Philadelphia Code section on Unfair Rental Practices  that will prohibit housing discrimination against victims of domestic violence. This landmark legislation prohibits private landlords from refusing to rent to a person who was a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault. It also allows victims in flight from such violence to get out of their leases.

It is in an effort to address this problem that the Federal Violence Against Women Act  was reauthorized in 2005. It contains important housing provisions which prohibit evicting or refusing to rent to women because they have been victims of criminal abuse. It also authorizes landlords to bifurcate leases so that the abusing partner can be evicted without evicting the victim. However, these federal provisions only apply to assisted housing such as Public Housing Agencies or Housing Voucher (Section 8) programs. The new legislation  signed by the Mayor of Philadelphia in October, 20111, will expand these protections to include the private sector.

These protections will only be effective if they are well known by tenants. TURN needs your help in spreading the word. 

Join the TURN Network to help educate the public on these issues.

Read more about the Proposed Domestic Violence Renter Protection Bill

Landlord Fraud

Sometimes You Have to Break the Rules.

If you have a serious disability, your landlord may have to make reasonable policy changes to accommodate you.

Some examples:

  • If you are blind, you can keep a seeing eye dog even in a building with a ‘no pets policy’. A service animal may also be appropriate if you have high blood pressure or a stress related illness.
  • You can ask to move to the top of the list for a first floor apartment if you use a wheel chair. This does not mean a landlord can require you to live on the first floor.
  • A landlord may have to accommodate you even if it requires a small cost which you are willing to pay, such as for a grab bar next to the tub.

It is illegal for a landlord to deny you a reasonable accommodation.

Be sure to make your request in writing and document your disability with a doctor’s note when it is not obvious.