Laws involving fair housing and accessibility are complex and dynamic. Depending on the type of housing, the funding source and the tenants involved, several different laws and codes may be involved. There are also several terms used to refer to a built environment that is usable by people of all abilities. Please note. The information below—as with any portion of this web site—is merely provided as a starting point; it is not a substitute for current professional legal advice. Terms and definitions are subject to change and interpretation.
Fair Housing can be best defined as the right of all people to be free from discrimination in the rental, sale or financing of housing. The act covers every individual, since we all belong to one or more protected class.
Accessible – This term applies to a program, service, built environment or event that can be used by persons of all abilities. Examples would include a courthouse or restroom that can accommodate wheelchair users, a public hearing that provides assistive listening devices for the hearing impaired, or a program offering outreach materials in alternate formats. In housing, the term is generally used in reference to multifamily or senior housing complexes, homeless shelters, etc.
Adaptable – Built environments that may or may not include finished accessible features such as ramps, grab bars, etc, but that can be easily adapted or modified to accommodate a variety of tenants. Examples include buildings with extra structural blocking in bathroom walls to allow future installation of grab bars in toilet and tub areas; wider hallways, entry ways and door openings; adjustable counter or cabinet elevations, removable cabinet doors under sinks to allow wheelchair access, etc.
Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) – Beyond a commitment to avoid discrimination, HUD-funded recipients are required to affirmatively further fair housing, which means actively promoting wider housing opportunities for all persons while maintaining a nondiscriminatory environment in all aspects of private and public housing.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – This act was signed into law July 26, 1990. The ADA primarily covers access to public spaces, programs and events. The Act covers employment, state and local government, public accommodations, telecommunications and transportation. ADA laws and design requirements also apply to certain public or common areas of multifamily housing complexes.
Important Note. ADA is not the same as Fair Housing or Section 504! Know the differences to avoid mistakes.
Assistance Animals – An animal needed because of a person’s disability that allows that person to have equal access and enjoyment of the housing. ‘Assistance animal’ is a broad term that is sometimes used interchangeably with companion, support or service animal (although technically, a ‘service animal’ may be trained to perform a specific task (see ‘service animal’). The following points should be kept in mind:
- The animal does not have to be a dog
- The animal does not have to be trained or certified
- A landlord or provider may impose rules on assistance animals related to the health and safety of other tenants
- A landlord or provider shall not charge a pet deposit for the animal
- A landlord or provider shall not ask about the nature or severity of a disability
- There is not a specific limit as to the number of assistance animals per household; there must, however, be a nexus between the existence of a disability and the need for the specific animal(s), and the ‘reasonableness’ standard may still apply (ask HUD/FHEO how this is defined).
- Where the number of animals exceeds local kennel ordinances, part of the reasonable accommodation may involve a request to local government to allow a variance.
- Any issue involving a request for reasonable accommodation (such as those involving assistance animals) can be complex, and deserves thoughtful consideration to comply with the law while protecting the interests of all parties involved. Seek professional guidance from HUD/FHEO, local enforcement contractors, or civil rights defense experts if you are uncertain about a situation.
Disability – The Fair Housing Act defines disability or ‘handicap’ with respect to a person as:
- a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of such person’s major life activities,
- a record of having such an impairment, or
- being regarded as having such an impairment, but such term does not include current, illegal use of or addiction to a controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802)).
Discrimination – Discrimination is defined in the Federal Fair Housing Act under:
- Sec. 804. [42 U.S.C. 3604] Discrimination in sale or rental of housing and other prohibited practices
- Sec. 805. [42 U.S.C. 3605] Discrimination in Residential Real Estate-Related Transactions
- Sec. 806. [42 U.S.C. 3606] Discrimination in provision of brokerage services
- Sec. 807. [42 U.S.C. 3607] Religious organization or privateclub exemption
Disparate Impact – This term describes the idea that an action or policy that is applied equally to all persons (and that appears neutral) may have an unintended but ‘disparate’ or unequal impact on members of a protected class. In some cases, this can be interpreted as a violation of Fair Housing law. One commonly used example is a policy stating that any tenants involved in domestic disturbances or abuse will face eviction. Since 90-95% of all domestic violence victims are women, this policy may have a disparate impact based on gender, a protected class.
Fair Housing Act – Congress passed The Fair Housing Act on April 11, 1968. The original Act prohibited discrimination in all housing transactions on the basis of race, national origin, sex, color and religion. It was later amended to protect persons with disabilities and ‘familial status’ (i.e., households with/without children). Fair Housing Accessibility ‘design and construction standards’ apply to multifamily housing consisting of four or more units and ready for first occupancy after March 13, 1991.
Important Note. Fair Housing is not the same as ADA or Section 504! Know the differences to avoid mistakes.
LEP/LAP – Idaho’s growing population includes individuals with Limited English Proficiency (LEP). Some LEP populations are refugees (pushed from their home country through war, famine or political oppression), and some are immigrants (pulled to the U.S. or Idaho by perceived opportunity or family connections). Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – National Origin Discrimination Against Persons With Limited English Proficiency (LEP Guidance), it is illegal to discriminate in access to programs or services that involve use of federal funds. Organizations that receive federal funds must create, implement and follow a Language Assistance Plan (LAP) that effectively accommodates the needs of all customers. Keep in mind that ‘customer service is welcome in any language.’ For more information, see http://lep.gov