April is Fair Housing Month! This is a subject I consider very important in my industry to uphold everyone’s right to affordable, accessible, and safe housing. This month I will write about various aspects of Fair Housing, and this week will go in to a bit of its history and application.
The Fair Housing Act is a federal law which protects against discrimination as applied to housing based on seven protected classes: race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status. Shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, the Fair Housing Act was passed and became law in 1968. Initially it included only the first four categories. As the issues of our nation evolved so did the Act and its classes, with sex being added in 1974, then disability and familial status in 1988. (Familial Status refers to families with children under the age of 18.)
These federally mandated classes are the minimum guidelines for the Act. Each state, county, and municipality have the right to add more classes to their laws but not the right to remove the federal ones. For instance, in the state of West Virginia we have two additional protected classes: Blindness (which was added before the federal disability category) and ancestry. Sorry to tell you McCoys this, but you cannot refuse housing to the Hatfields no matter what their grandfather did. There are no additional classes in Monongalia County, however in the city of Morgantown veteran status, sexual orientation, and gender identity are protected.
So how do the additional classes come in to play? Whichever law is more stringent overrides. Therefore, if where you live has a class that is not on the federal law one cannot argue they did not violate Fair Housing because it is not one of ‘the seven’. The smaller government entity supersedes. Also, unlike most laws pertaining to real estate, it is applicable to all people not just licensed agents. If you own rental property and manage it without the help of a professional company these laws apply to you. There are very few exceptions to this, one being if you are renting a portion of the house you live in. In that case not all classes apply but some do, therefore it’s advisable to check with your local HUD (Housing and Urban Development) office prior to renting a space to ensure against violating someone’s rights.
Feel your rights have been violated? Your local HUD office is your best resource also. Do not go straight to the federal level, your local office will advise how to move forward from there. And this is not only applicable in rental housing, it is enforced in the sale and purchase of real estate as well. This law is extremely important to uphold and defend. It is in the best interest of our nation, economy, and society to provide equitable housing opportunity and availability no matter what the circumstance.
Thanks to all who have provided feedback on my columns. If there is a topic you’d like me to write about I’m just an email away. Enjoy your week…
Melissa Berube, 2019 MBOR President