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SPLF Employment Blog

Caregiver Discrimination In Housing

Another statute providing some protection for caregivers is the Fair Housing Act. Section 3604 (a)of this law says that its hall be illegal to “refuse to sell or rent after the making of a bonafide offer, or tore fuse to negotiate for the sale or rental of, or otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin” (emphasis added).

Courts have interpreted this provision to mean that a land lord cannot refuse to rent to a person solely because he or she has children. For instance in Potterv. Morgan, the court awarded damages to the Potters based on these facts:

Complainants had been living in La Grange, WY, but needed to relocate to Cody, WY, approximately 400 miles away, because Mr. Potter’s new job started in July 2011. During the course of searching for housing, Complainants contacted Respondent on June 10, 2011, but were wrongly denied Respondent’s property on Draw Street (Draw Street Property). Complainants failed to find other available housing in Cody before Mr. Potter’s job began and were forced to move to Clark, which is 37 miles north of Cody. After six months of commuting from Clark to Cody for both work and amenities, Mr. Potter received a conditional job offer from the Cody Police Department and Complainants broke their lease and moved to a house in Cody, at Gabbi Lane, in December 2011.

The opinion by the administrative law judge (ALJ) noted:

At the heart of this matter is a one and a half to three minute telephone conversation, some of the content of which is in dispute. The parties agree that Respondent spoke with Mrs. Potteron June 10, 2011.… Based on its observation of the witnesses and their demeanors while testifying, the facts enumerated at paragraphs 21-31, supra, constitute the Court’s findings with regard to the interactions between Mrs. Potter and Respondent.… The salient statements areas follows: 1. Respondent told Complainants that the ages of Complainants’ children were Respondent’s “business” because Respondent was concerned with the children’s safety, as the steps in the Draw Street Property could pose a safety problem. 2. In response to Mrs. Potter’s statement that Respondent could not discriminate against Complainants because of her children, Respondent replied, “Yes, Ican, and I will” [then hung up the telephone].

The ALJ found that an “ordinary listener could easily conclude that the statement was in violation of § 3604(c).”

The court (technically, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development) awarded the Potters monetary damages, including $15,000 for “intangible damages,” which covered the emotional distress from being denied housing and the fact that Mr. Potter was unable to participate in hisson’s school activities because the family was forced to live away from where he worked.

A second example is the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Gilliganv. Jamco Development Corp. In this case, the federal appeals court found that it could be a violation of the Fair Housing Act for the managers of an a partment complex to refuse to rent to a couple because they received Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). The facts of the case were as follows:

In January 1994, Catherine Gilligan contacted Ruth Fischer about renting an apartment at Verdugo Gardens in Burbank, California. According to the Gilligans’ complaint, she in formed Fischer that her family’s source of income was AFDC, and Fischer replied that the Gilligans could not inspect or apply to rent an apartment because they were receiving AFDC benefits. The Gilligans maintain that Fischer never inquired about the amount of their monthly income or informed Catherine Gilligan of the monthly rent at Verdugo Gardens. They further allege that Fischer was aware of a vacant apartment unit in the building when she refused to discuss a rental with Catherine Gilligan.

On February 16, 1994, affair housing tester posing as prospective tenant on tacted Fischer to inquire about the rental of an apartment unit for her family. The tester told Fischer that’s he received welfare payments, and Fischer responded that Verdugo Gardens was not a “welfare building.” Fischer also stated that’s he had no apartments available to show until the following week. Fifteen minutes later, a second fair housing tester contacted Fischer and inquired about the possibility of renting a unit for her family. In response to Fischer’s questions, the second tester stated that’s he was working and did not receive welfare payments. Fischer promptly showed her an apartment that was being vacated.

Because Gilligan was a decision about the standard necessary to move forward on a claim, the decision did not indicate how the Gilligans fared in their law suit. However, by allowing the case to move forward, the court recognized that it would be illegal for an apartment manager to discriminate against an applicant simply because he or she has children.

In short, The Fair Housing Act provides a powerful tool to protect families from housing discrimination.

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