Posts Tagged Landlord & Tenant

Fair Housing Update: Review of 2010 Fair Housing Trends Report

A large segment of my work involves advising landlords and property managers about fair housing laws and counseling them what they can and cannot do in the rental industry with regard to the federal and state fair housing laws and discrimination in general.  As such, I recently took the time to read the National Fair Housing Alliance’s (NFHA) 2010 Fair Housing Trends Report which was published May 26, 2010.  

To provide you with some background on the protected classes and fair housing law in general you may wish to review my July 10th post which discusses the various protected classes or visit Atty. Ron Leshnower’s Fair Housing Blog.

Some of the relevant highlights of the report are below. 

-   In 2009 there were a total of 30,213 fair housing complaints filed.  This is a significantly higher number of complaint than in past years.  It should be noted that all of these complaints do not arise in the context of rental housing — many involve mortgage lending, hosing construction etc.

-   NFHA conservatively estimates that there are over 4 million fair housing violations each year although most of them are never reported.

-   In 2009 H.U.D. (U.S. Dep’t of Housing and Urban Development) and D.O.J. (Department of Justice) charged more fair housing cases than in past years.

-   Private fair housing groups continue to process the highest number of complaints — 19,924 (or 66%) of the total complaint load even though there are fewer private fair housing groups than in prior years. 

-   Since 1999, private non-profit fair housing organizations have processed 186,308 (66%) of the complaints.  By comparison, Fair Housing Assistance Program (FHAP) agencies processed 69,358 complaints (25%), and HUD processed 25,881 (9%) of the cases.

-  People with disabilities continued to be the protected class that is most discriminated against (or at least the most reported) in 2009.  This was also true in 2008.   The report explains that disability complaints remain high for several reasons: (1) HUD has an office devoted solely to disability issues, (2) many apartment owners make direct comments refusing to make reasonable accomodations or modifications for people with disabilities so the discrimination is easier to detect, (3) builders, developers, and architects still continue to design and construct apartment complexes that violate the Accesibility Guidelines, (4) every state has a Protection and Advocacy System and every city has one or more non-profit agencies dedicated to assisting people with cognitive, mental, sensory, and physical disabilities. 

ASIDE:   In a recent article from Milwaukee Magazine’s newsbuzz, disability related discrimination leads the way in Milwaukee also.

-   In 2009, private fair housing groups reported 15, 624 complaints of housing discrimination in the rental market.  FHAP agencies reported 6,464 and HUD reported 1,656.  The report goes on to explain that one reason for the increase in the number of rental market complaints from prior years may be the foreclosure crises — i.e. many tenants were evicted when the owner defaulted on his/her mortgage and many others lost their homes and needed to enter the rental market where they faced discrimination.

-   In 2009, several representatives in Washington introduced bills to extend the protection of the Fair Housing Act to create 2 additional federally protected classes: (1) gender identity, and (2) sexual orientation.

Obviously, more work needs to be done to ensure that landlords are aware of the protected classes and do not engage in discrimination, but as the title of the report says – 2009 was a “step in the right direction.”

ASIDE:  There is a portion of the report that addresses fair housing implications of the foreclosure crisis that is very interesting and worth a read.

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Must A Landlord Provide A Census Taker with Information About His Tenants?

I have recently recieved several calls from my landlord and property manager clients asking me whether or not they have to provide census workers (called “census enumerators” or “census takers” ) with information about their tenants.  Census employees started knocking on the doors of those who failed to return their census questionnaire on May 1st and will continue to do so until July 10th.

The short answer to the question is ”yes.”   If a census taker has attempted to contact and obtain answers to the census questions from your tenant, and been unable unable to do so, the census taker is allowed to — and in fact, is required to – contact the landlord or manager of the rental property to obtain the requested information about your tenant.

Typically, providing personal information about your tenant to a third party is not something that you want to do unless you enjoy being sued.  But providing a census enumerator with the answers to the questions from the census questionnaire regarding your tenants is one of the few exceptions to this rule.   The Department of Commerce has clearly stated that landlords and property managers of rental property will not be in violation of any privacy laws if they provides the requested information about their tenants to the census taker.  In fact, if a landlord refuses to provide the census enumerator with the requested information about his/her tenants, s/he may be fined up to $500.

The applicable law is found at Title 13 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Chapter 7, Subchapter II, Sections 221 and 223.

If you just clicked on the above links and attempted to read the two code sections, I commend you – they are difficult to read (and understand) and are filled with all kind of archaic language that is referred to as “legalese.”  Since I actually want this post to educate you —  and not piss you off – allow me to paraphrase the law for you:

1.   If a census enumerator is unable to contact the tenant and obtain the census info from the tenant, then the landlord or manager must assist the census employee in answering the census questions regarding their tenants.

2.   The landlord or manager may ask to see the census workers identification before divulging any information.

3.   The first question that the enumerator will ask is whether or not the apartment unit was occupied on April 1, 2010.

4.   If the unit was not occupied by anyone on April 1, 2010, then the census employee questions for you regarding that rental unit should be done.

5.   Assuming that the unit was occupied by a tenant on April 1, 2010, then you should provide the census enumerator with answers to as many of the census questions as possible.  The census questionnaires questions can be found here.  Two of the questions on the census questionnaire ask about an individual’s race, the census enumerators are aware that you may not know this information about your tenants.

6.   You are not breaking any privacy laws by  answering these questions about your tenants for the census taker.

7.   You may be fined up to $500 for failing to provide the census taker with this information about your tenants.

In summary, if the census taker is unable to reach your tenant  and obtain answers to the census questionnaire from them,  then you as the landlord or manager, are required to assist the census employee by providing the census employee with that information.  Failure to do so may result in a $500 fine.

After you are done talking to the census worker, you may want to talk to your tenant about how important it is to complete their census questionnaire next time — in part so that their landlord doesn’t have to spend all of his/her limited time, doing the tenant’s work for them.  Good luck with that :  )

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