What to Ask When Hunting for a Handicapped-Accessible Apartment

Young man in wheelchair unloading the dishwasher in his handicapped-accessible apartmentFinding an apartment that’s handicapped accessible can be challenging, especially if you’re unable to visit the apartment you’re considering. With the right resources and questions, though, you can do it! Of the 56.7 million Americans who have some type of disability, more than 30 million of those require a wheelchair. You’re not the only one out there asking questions about handicapped accessibility, and we’re here to help!

Start Digital: Ask Questions Online

By searching for apartments on websites like ApartmentSearch.com, you can narrow the results to view only apartments that meet certain needs. There’s nothing worse than falling in love with an apartment’s beautiful cherry floors, country-chic kitchen, and gorgeous view, only to find out that the building is too old to have an elevator! Keep things simple and save yourself time by narrowing the selection online. For instance, you can modify search requirements to answer questions like:

Is the apartment wheelchair accessible?
Are roll-in showers available?
Does the apartment building have an elevator?
Does the building offer covered parking?

Get Personal: Ask Questions Over the Phone

If you’re unable to get your questions answered online, pick up the phone! Over 30 million people (10 percent of the population) have a severe disability of some type, so apartment managers should be accustomed to hearing questions like these. While every disability is different, here are some basic questions to get your wheels turning in the right direction. Once you’ve found an apartment that covers your basic needs, you ask secondary questions like:

Where is the thermostat located? Is it low enough for those in wheelchairs to reach?
Do waste services accommodate handicapped tenants?
How wide are the apartment’s door frames?
Where are units located in relation to the laundry facilities?
Can you connect me with residents in other handicap accessible units?

In addition to asking yes-or-no questions, ask open-ended questions. For example, you might ask, “What other challenges could this apartment pose for a person with a handicap?” This type of question helps you cover more ground. Asking open-ended questions could bring up important issues that you, or the landlord, had not previously considered.

Get Local: Ask Questions About the Area

Inquire about the general area around the apartment, too. Start with the apartment complex’s immediate surroundings. For example, if you need public transportation, you may want to ask the apartment manager questions like, “What kind of access do tenants have to public transportation?” Follow up with other questions like:

What are the sidewalks like? Are they well-maintained?
How far away is the nearest grocery store?
What is the terrain around the apartment like? Are there any gravel pathways?

Asking questions like this could help ensure your safety and in the long run, help you enjoy your apartment complex! If your surroundings are conducive to your lifestyle, you may be well on your way to finding a great apartment.

Get Legal: Know Your Rights

Whether you ask questions online or over the phone (even in person), don’t be afraid to bring up your disability. It’s against the law for apartment managers or owners to treat disabled persons differently with regard to renting an apartment.

Under the Fair Housing Act, managers are not permitted to discriminate based upon disability. Plus, this Act requires all “covered multifamily dwellings” designed and constructed for first occupancy after March 13, 1991 to be accessible to and usable by people with disabilities. Check out the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s list of FAQs for more information about the requirements outlined in the Fair Housing Act.

Handicapped individuals have the same right to rent an apartment as everyone else. You don’t have to be afraid to ask questions about handicapped accessibility for fear of discrimination. Ask away!

Get Started! Begin Your Search Today

As you start your search, visit ApartmentSearch.com and look for handicapped-accessible apartments. Our site may help you find the perfect apartment from the get-go. Visit ApartmentSearch.com, type in your location, and click Enter. You’ll be presented with a list of apartments in that city. Then, refine your search by clicking on the arrow under “Advanced” in the upper, right hand side of the screen. You can refine your search by apartments that are wheelchair accessible, have a roll-in shower, or a number of many other amenities. Start your search today!

Source: blog.apartmentsearch.com

How to Find an Accessible Apartment

Finding an affordable, livable apartment can take some effort. And it can seem even more difficult when you’re searching for handicap-accessible apartments. But there’s good news.

If you know a few things going in — which features you’re looking for, where and how to look, which questions to ask and what to expect from the application process, plus what rights you have and restrictions you might encounter — the process of finding handicap-accessible apartments gets easier.

1. Prepare your list of “must-have” accessibility features

Before you start looking, make a checklist of accessibility features that are essential to you, plus others that would be simply “nice to have.” These features usually fall into a few categories:

  • External accommodations: Accessible parking spaces, ramps, handrails, enhanced lighting, etc.
  • Common area access: Widened entryways and hallways, automatic doors, ADA-compliant elevators, etc.
  • Floorplan accommodations: Wider doorjambs and hallways, flat or low-rise thresholds, roll-in sinks and showers, etc.
  • Control adjustments: Location of electrical switches and outlets to be within reach, lever-style door handles, Braille or tactile panels near controls, etc.
  • Amenities: Pools, fitness centers, lounge areas, etc.

From low counters and hardwood floors to automatic doors and multiple elevators, not every place will offer every accessible feature. You might be able to make some small modifications yourself — like swapping out doorknobs for lever-style handles or adding grab bars in the bathroom. However, other items might be dealbreakers.

So start with a list of what matters most to you. There are elements that most accessible apartments share. We’ll walk you through the details and more features to look for in the search steps below.

2. Search online for handicap-accessible apartments

Whether you want a one-bedroom in an apartment building or a townhome with an elevator, online is the easiest place to start searching.

Nonprofits and government agencies offer help in finding, applying for and paying for ADA-compliant housing. However, they might not have the most updated information on apartments, as real estate markets change quickly and constantly. To see listings for helpful nonprofit and government agencies, go to the More Resources section at the end.

Apartment search sites often yield more options and provide greater specificity about available features. Specialized searches can save time by letting you filter through the features you want. A typical search results screen might look like the one below.

Screenshot of a basic search results screen from a Rent.com apartment search, with annotations

Most searches begin with inputting your desired city, type of property, number of bedrooms and rent prices. But that could give you hundreds of results. To narrow the list, look for additional filtering options.

3. Narrow search results with filters

Filtering screens look different, depending on the site you’re on. But once you’ve got the basics in place, look for ways to filter your results. You can start with terms like “disability access,” then get more specific.

Use more filtering options to find your preferred amenities. Each filter will reduce the number of results and offer you a clearer picture of what’s available for your criteria. Below, several elements of a filter results page are highlighted.

Screenshot of a filtered results screen from a Rent.com handicap-accessible apartment search, with annotations

Filtering options can include features such as hardwood floors, front-loading washer and dryer in the apartment, etc. If you have a service animal, it should be allowed in any public or commercial building — but life may be easier for you and your companion animal in a building that already allows pets and has amenities like dog waste stations and fenced runs.

If public transit is important or you’d like to be in a certain neighborhood, you might use a location tool to narrow the range to a more specific location.

4. Use listing page options to focus your search

In addition to search filters, real estate listing sites offer many other ways to access information about properties, such as highlights, amenities listings, descriptions, photos, floorplans and virtual tours. Each of these can be useful to learn about different amenities and accessibility features that might be available.

Read the property’s description

The property description is meant to give you a feel for what you could expect while living there, both in terms of amenities on-site and in the surrounding area. These are highlighted in the example below.

Screenshot of a mockup property description screen from a Rent.com apartment search, with highlights

Read the description thoroughly, watching for mentions of designated parking spaces, access to public transportation and proximity to local businesses. You can also find information on alarm systems in apartments for contacting emergency services and other disability-friendly features.

Look at photos, videos and virtual tours

You can learn a lot from photos of an apartment, and even more from videos or virtual tours that are available for many properties. Spend some time looking through these options to see if you can spot accessibility features like:

  • Ramps and accessible walkways with handrails
  • Adequate lighting for both indoor and outdoor spaces
  • Low-rise flooring with low thresholds to minimize obstacles or tripping hazards
  • Grab bars in bathrooms
  • Doors and hallways wide enough to allow easy access for a wheelchair

Not every apartment community offers a virtual tour or video tour as depicted below. But nearly every facility provides photos to give you an idea of what an apartment looks like.

Screenshot of a virtual tours and video tours screen from a Rent.com apartment search

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Many aspects of the living space that aren’t listed in the description or amenities can become apparent in the photos, videos and virtual tour options.

Examine the floorplan

Not every property offers information on individual apartment floorplans via an apartment search site, but if a floorplan is available online, you can scrutinize it to find:

  • Entryways and hallways wide enough to accommodate wheelchair access
  • Kitchen modifications like a roll-in sink and countertops with space underneath, lowered cabinets, appliances with front controls
  • Bathroom modifications like grab bars, roll-in shower and sink, shower bench, single-control faucets

Screenshot of a highlights and floors plans screen from a Rent.com apartment search

Floorplans can provide a view of a property that you can’t get from any other source. If you have access to one, take advantage of the extra safety and mobility information it can provide.

Expect more accessibility options from newer buildings

Since federal regulations governing accessibility features in housing were established fairly recently, newer apartment communities are more likely to offer accessible accommodations than older buildings. The Fair Housing Act offers detailed wording about these accessibility requirements. (See more about the Fair Housing Act in the Know your rights section below.)

Apartment buildings constructed before 1991 were not required to build accessibility features into their design. It’s a good idea to know the age of any apartment communities you consider. So when you meet with a leasing agent or property manager, ask the building’s age.

5. Arrange a visit in person or via video — and ask questions

Once you’ve identified the most promising options from your online apartment search, you’ll want to see the spaces for yourself. But if you don’t feel comfortable going in person, most places now are offering live video tours. Once you’re there (whether in person or on screen), ask the host all the questions you can.

Ask the leasing agent about accessibility and/or modifications

Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the apartment community; that’s what the leasing agent or property manager is there for. Ask about the facility’s spaces, daily operations, safety practices, plans for the future and anything else that might affect your experience there. Here are some suggestions:

  • What types of accessible apartments are available?
  • Are there renovations planned that would make the building more or less accessible?
  • What year was this apartment community built?
  • Are animals allowed? (This is applicable if you have a service animal.)
  • Who handles maintenance, and how quickly can you expect it to be done?
  • Will maintenance personnel place a priority on modifications or repairs designed to assist with my disability?
  • Do you know about my right to make reasonable modifications to my space?
  • If I need to make modifications, do you require an additional deposit to cover the cost of returning my unit to its original condition when I move out?
  • What is the best way to communicate with you?

Check the apartment community’s amenities and common areas

White man with artificial lower left leg walking on an elliptical machine at handicap-accessible apartment

Be sure to notice the public spaces, both indoor and outdoor, when you arrive for the tour. If a fitness center is important to you for physical therapy, check the hours, equipment and visitor policies. Take note of features or ask your tour guide these questions as you move through the different areas:

  • Do you enter the building through automated doors?
  • Are there any wheelchair ramps, and if so, where are they located?
  • Does the building have at least one accessible elevator wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair?
  • Is there an accessible laundry room — or an option to have laundry appliances inside the apartment?
  • How wide are entryways and hallways in public areas?
  • What is the lighting like in both the indoor and outdoor common spaces?
  • Are there specially designated handicapped parking spaces?

When asking about parking, be specific. Are spaces wide enough to allow easy entry and exit from your vehicle? Are they close enough to the building for quick access? And are there sidewalk ramps leading from the parking lot?

It’s also important to be sure you can have constant access to these spaces. General handicap parking spaces may not be available at a given time if anyone — tenants or guests — can use them. Find out if you can get a dedicated handicap space. If so, make sure it’s suitable for your needs.

View the apartment with an eye for disability-friendly features

When you’re able to tour the apartment you’d had in mind (or one very much like it), bring a tape measure and your checklist of essential accessibility features. Go down the list as you move through the living space and see how many of your preferred features the place offers.

It’s important to keep in mind that apartments tend to be more compact than homes, so there may be issues in navigating the floorplan. Corridors should be wide enough, both in the “straightaway” sections and around corners, for you to turn or pass without difficulty if you are using a wheelchair or handrails.

You may not have to deal with a kitchen island, but if you do, make sure you can maneuver around it easily and also reach its entire counter surface.

You may want to note the answers to these questions as you go along:

  • Do you open the apartment doors with lever handles or round knobs?
  • Is flooring level, smooth and easy enough to walk or roll across?
  • Are the apartment doors at least 32 inches wide? (This is where the tape measure comes in handy.)
  • Are there rocker-style light switches, digital thermostats, electrical outlets or other household controls placed within reach of wheelchair height?
  • What height are the kitchen and bathroom counters in the apartment?
  • Can you easily reach sinks and faucets?
  • Are the faucet controls easy to manipulate?
  • Are the bathtub and shower big enough to be accessible to anyone?
  • Do the tub, shower and toilets have grab bars? (If not, discuss installation options.)
  • If the apartment is furnished, are the furnishings suitable for your needs?
  • Is lighting sufficient to see clearly in all interior locations?
  • Are smoke detectors accessible?

Tour the neighborhood to look for local amenities

Three smiling people outdoors with beers: one man in a wheelchair, one man with artificial lower right leg; one woman standing and raising a glass at handicap-accessible apartment

When you’re visiting a potential property, take a look at the neighborhood and decide if it offers the amenities you need, such as:

  • A location that offers easy walking or other access to amenities in the area
  • Sidewalks that are wide, well-lit and clean enough to navigate safely
  • Ramped curbs, adequate lights and crossing signals at intersections
  • Bus stops or other public transportation access for commuting to work and recreation
  • A grocery store, pharmacy, restaurants and/or food delivery options nearby

You can gain another perspective by touring the community and talking to people who live there. If you can find tenants with disabilities living in the apartment community, arrange to speak with them. Don’t be intrusive, but don’t be afraid to ask. Many people are willing to share their experiences, both positive and negative.

Check out the crime reports for the neighborhood using online crime maps. They also provide information on what type of criminal activity is involved, and how close it is to your prospective residence.

6. Prepare to apply for a handicap-accessible apartment

Once you’ve decided on a place you think you’d like to rent, you’ll need to know what to expect from the application process. This can be intricate and costly in the best of circumstances, so it’s a good idea to go in knowledgeable and prepared.

Assemble your important documents and proof of income

  • Contact info, driver’s license or ID, Social Security number
  • Vehicle documentation
  • Current and previous employment records
  • Current and previous rental info
  • Personal references and emergency contact information

Cost is a prominent aspect of finding a livable apartment. Leasing agents and renters alike consider finances to be one of the most important elements of the application process. Make sure you can provide:

  • Pay stubs
  • Tax returns
  • Records of any housing or disability benefits
  • Any other documentation of your income

If you need help paying for an accessible apartment, see the More Resources section at the bottom of this page for nonprofit and government agencies that can offer aid.

7. Know your rights before signing a contract

Federal regulations are designed to help potential renters in housing facilities avoid encountering discrimination and also access and navigate all areas safely. Before you sign a contract, know your rights as a tenant, especially as one who requires handicap-accessible accommodations.

On the basis of your ability status, a leasing agent or property manager cannot do any of the following:

  • Refuse to negotiate with you
  • Refuse to rent to you an apartment
  • Tell you an available unit is not available
  • Set very different terms for you than for other tenants
  • Charge you more for an accessible apartment than a non-accessible one

If you encounter problems in renting an apartment, try to solve them via good-faith discussion. If that’s impossible, you may wish to contact an attorney who’s experienced with housing law and renters’ rights. They should be well-versed in the federal laws that specifically protect the rights of renters with disabilities, like the federal acts described below.

Nondiscrimination in housing

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing policy and practice. The FHA also stipulates design and construction recommendations for newly built handicap-accessible apartments.

Under the accessibility requirements of the FHA, apartment facilities with more than four units built after 1991 must offer accessible routes into and around housing units. They also must provide accessible parking spots and public areas, as well as kitchen and bathroom designs that are usable by people with disabilities.

Accessible spaces

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires handicap accessibility accommodations in public places to allow people with disabilities to navigate safely. However, ADA rules do not apply to private residences.

Apartment communities must make public spaces accessible — such as the leasing office, lobby, clubhouse, picnic area, pool, other common areas. But they are not required to do so for individual apartment homes. (However, tenants have the right to request modifications to these spaces, as described below.)

Reasonable accommodations

If your chosen property doesn’t offer the accessibility modifications you need, then you have the right to negotiate with the property manager to make the necessary changes. You can legally request accessibility modifications for your apartment and also common areas like the parking lot, clubhouse or laundry room.

The Reasonable Accommodations section of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504 says that in federally assisted accessible housing, accessibility modifications are made and paid for by the landlord (unless they cause undue financial hardship).

In other housing besides that which is federally funded, tenants have the right to request accessibility modifications — but usually pay the costs themselves.

8. Choose your new place and move in

By the time you’ve gone through all these steps, you’ll probably see that, like many things, searching for an apartment can be more involved for people who need accessibility accommodations.

But safe, comfortable, and accessible apartments do exist — more are being built each year, in fact. There are resources available that can help you move into an apartment with the modifications you need and want.

More resources for finding handicap-accessible apartments

Many nonprofit agencies and government programs are designed to help people find housing that meets their accessibility needs. Some of these organizations not only help you locate and apply for a handicap-accessible apartment but also access funds to finance your move-in, as well.

Nonprofit organizations for accessible housing

Federal benefits programs for accessible housing

The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal or financial advice. Readers are encouraged to seek professional legal or financial advice as they may deem it necessary.

Source: rent.com

What Is Redlining?

Homeownership is a major goal for many people. Not only is a house the biggest purchase many will ever make, but owning a home is a way to build and transfer wealth.

While nearly 75% of non-Hispanic white Americans were homeowners in 2020, the homeownership rate was almost 60% for Asian Americans and just over 49% for Hispanic Americans, according to the Census Bureau. Black Americans were the least likely of all minority groups to own a house, at just over 44% in 2020.

Why the stark disparity? The answer, in part, is redlining, a discriminatory housing policy that made it difficult for Black, immigrant and poor families to buy homes for several decades. While redlining was banned more than 50 years ago, its negative effects are still felt today.

Redlining definition

Redlining is a term that describes the denial of mortgage financing to otherwise creditworthy borrowers because of their race or where they want to live.

The term was coined by sociologist John McKnight in the 1960s. It refers to areas marked in red on maps where banks would not lend money, but the discriminatory practice began much earlier.

In the 1930s, as part of the New Deal, the federal government created the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation and the Federal Housing Administration to stabilize the housing industry.

The HOLC was designed to provide low-interest, emergency loans to homeowners in danger of foreclosure, while the FHA replaced high-interest loans of the early 20th century with longer-term, government-insured mortgages at lower interest rates.

To guide lending decisions, the HOLC instituted color-coded “residential security” maps. These maps separated areas the HOLC considered safe for lending from areas that should be avoided. Although the HOLC said the maps would help lenders assess risk and property values, racial biases were clearly at play.

Neighborhoods that were predominantly white were usually colored in green or blue and considered the least risky. It was easier to get home loans in these areas.

Areas with a high number of Black, Jewish and Asian families, which often had older homes or were closer to industrial areas, were typically shaded in red and labeled “hazardous.” Almost no lender would provide mortgages in these areas.

Areas that bordered Black neighborhoods were colored yellow and were also rarely approved for loans.

Effects of redlining

The grading of neighborhoods based on perceived credit risk restricted the ability of Blacks and other minority groups to get affordable loans or even to rent in certain areas.

Exclusion from government lending programs

The FHA, as well as private banks and insurers, used the HOLC’s redlining practices to guide their underwriting decisions.

As a result, it was almost impossible for nonwhite Americans to gain access to the affordable loans offered by agencies like the FHA and Veterans Administration — programs supposedly intended to expand homeownership.

In fact, nonwhite people received just 2% of the $120 billion in housing financed by government agencies between 1934 and 1962, historian George Lipsitz notes in his book “The Possessive Investment in Whiteness.”

Racially restrictive covenants

Racially restrictive covenants are agreements, often included in a property deed, that prevent property owners from selling or leasing to certain racial groups.

These covenants reinforced redlining by prohibiting Blacks and other groups from buying or occupying property in various cities throughout the country.

Although the GI Bill promised low-cost home loans to veterans of World War II, lending discrimination and racially restrictive covenants meant Black soldiers couldn’t buy homes in developing suburbs, for example.

Racially restrictive covenants remain in some real estate deeds, though a 1948 Supreme Court ruling says they aren’t enforceable.

Even so, decades later, Black and Hispanic Vietnam War veterans and their families encountered similar racial discrimination when trying to buy and rent homes in certain areas.

Is redlining illegal?

Angered by the inability of Vietnam War veterans of color to obtain housing, groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People pressured the government to pass the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

As part of the Civil Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act made it illegal for mortgage lenders and landlords to discriminate against someone for their race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

Redlining maps may no longer be in use, but more than 50 years after the law was passed, housing discrimination still exists, says Andre M. Perry, a senior fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution.

Paired testing studies using equally qualified home seekers of different races have found that some real estate agents discriminate against people of color by not showing them properties in white neighborhoods or showing them fewer homes in general.

Perry also says research he published in 2018 shows homes in Black majority areas are undervalued by $48,000 on average, resulting in $156 billion in cumulative losses.

“Just because a law changed, it doesn’t mean the practices and procedures that still may devalue homes in Black neighborhoods, aren’t still there,” he says. “Ultimately, it’s the reduction of wealth that is the most harmful aspect of redlining.”

How redlining reinforced the racial wealth gap

The racial wealth gap is a term that describes the difference between the median wealth of whites compared with other groups. The median and mean net worth of Black families are less than 15% that of white families, according to Federal Reserve 2019 data.

The disparity exists today because Blacks were locked out of homeownership by redlining and were unable to build generational wealth, says Nikitra Bailey, an executive vice president at the Center for Responsible Lending.

“This persistent gap in homeownership opportunities between white families and families of color literally is rooted in the fact white families got a head start,” Bailey adds.

In fact, the homeownership divide between Blacks and whites is back to where it was in 1890, according to the National Fair Housing Alliance. And the gap is even larger than it was in 1968 when the Fair Housing Act was enacted.

Sheryl Pardo, a spokesperson for the nonprofit research organization Urban Institute, stresses that national, state and local policies are needed to address the homeownership and racial wealth inequities redlining has left behind.

The Urban Institute’s proposals include zoning laws to improve access to affordable housing, counseling before and after purchasing a home to prepare borrowers for the costs of homeownership, the expansion of down payment assistance programs and the development of financial products for homeowners to repair, maintain and improve their homes.

“Homeownership is still the most significant wealth-building tool in this country,” Pardo says. “If you want the Black community to make up that distance, homeownership has to be a key piece of it. It’s almost like you need a shock-and-awe response. It’s not going to happen by tweaking one little lever.”

Source: nerdwallet.com

The Fair Housing Act now applies to LGBTQ renters and home buyers. Here’s what changed

HUD is expanding the Fair Housing Act

Trans and other members of the LGBTQ community are now protected under the Fair Housing Act, according to an announcement from the Department of Housing and Urban Development late last week.

The agency will now investigate complaints of housing discrimination relating to sexual orientation and gender identity — two classes not previously protected under the law. 

This is a critical change; HUD has recognized the history of housing discrimination against LGBTQ individuals and is offering legal protection to those affected for the first time.

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LGBTQ housing discrimination: An “urgent” issue

“Housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity demands urgent enforcement action,” said Jeanine M. Worden, the acting assistant secretary of HUD’s Fair Housing office.

“That is why HUD, under the Biden Administration, will fully enforce the Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.”

Worden continues, “Every person should be able to secure a roof over their head free from discrimination, and the action we are taking today will move us closer to that goal.”

This change is in line with the Biden Administration’s goals to reduce discrimination in housing, and to make renting and home buying more accessible and affordable.

What are Fair Housing protections?

The Fair Housing Act — technically Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 — protects Americans from discrimination when:

  • Renting or buying a property
  • Applying for a mortgage
  • Seeking housing assistance
  • Participating in any other housing-related activity

Seven classes are explicitly protected in the Act, including race, color, national origin, religion, familial status, disability and sex. 

Prior to HUD’s latest announcement, “sex” had meant biological sex.

Now, under the new expansions, the Fair Housing Act also protects against discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation as well.

How this change helps LGBTQ renters and homebuyers

Thanks to the changes, LGBTQ Americans can now file complaints with HUD if they feel they’re discriminated against at any point while seeking housing.

This could include discrimination by a real estate agent, mortgage professional, rental property owner, apartment manager, or anyone else involved in the housing process.

HUD offers two examples of what LGBTQ housing discrimination might look like:

  • “A transgender woman is asked by the owner of her apartment building not to dress in women’s clothing in the common areas of the property.”
  • “A gay man is evicted because his landlord believes he will infect other tenants with HIV/AIDS.”

If you’ve experienced these or any other types of housing discrimination because of your gender identity or sexual orientation, file a complaint at HUD.gov/FairHousing.

Complaints dating back to January 20, 2020, will be investigated.

Why the Fair Housing Act is being expanded

There are three reasons HUD has expanded Fair Housing protections to trans and other LTBTQ Americans.

First, there’s President Biden’s Day 1 executive order, which calls on government agencies to “prevent and combat discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.”

According to agency spokespeople, HUD is the first department to comply with this executive order.

A new interpretation of the law

The recent Supreme Court case Bostock v. Clayton County also plays a role. In the 2019 case, the court found that a transgender worker’s firing was a direct violation of the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and that “sex” protections did indeed apply. 

“Homosexuality and transgender status are inextricably bound up with sex,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote.

“Not because homosexuality or transgender status are related to sex in some vague sense or because discrimination on these bases has some disparate impact on one sex or another, but because to discriminate on these grounds requires an employer to intentionally treat individual employees differently because of their sex.”

According to HUD, the ruling clarified how the Civil Rights Act — including its Fair Housing provisions — should be interpreted moving forward.

“Enforcing the Fair Housing Act to combat housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity isn’t just the right thing to do-it’s the correct reading of the law after Bostock,” said Damon Y. Smith, HUD’s principal deputy general counsel.

“We are simply saying that the same discrimination that the Supreme Court has said is illegal in the workplace is also illegal in the housing market.”

A history of housing discrimination

HUD also cited numerous studies surrounding housing discrimination and the LGBTQ community in its decision to expand Fair Housing protections.

One study, for example, found that same-sex male couples were significantly less likely to receive responses when seeking a rental property. Another found discrimination against transgender women in homeless shelters.

With the expansion of the Fair Housing Act, there’s now a legal path to recourse for individuals who have been barred from housing or discriminated against in this manner.

Source: themortgagereports.com

CFPB makes it clear: fair servicing is back, for real this time

A new presidential administration and a clarion call from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has transformed fair servicing from a seemingly remote risk into a front and center mandate.

After the 2008 financial crisis, regulators enhanced long-standing fair lending examination guidelines to incorporate the concept of fair servicing. They began to scrutinize potential discriminatory loss mitigation and foreclosure practices and threatened to hold mortgage servicers accountable if such impermissible practices were identified.

Mortgage servicers prepared for the scrutiny, conducted fair servicing risk assessments, and brought in the quants to analyze their servicing portfolio for risk of disparate treatment and disparate impact — but the big discrimination actions did not follow.

Today’s regulatory environment feels different as COVID-19 has struck communities of color harder than others and equity and inclusion are at the heart of the Biden administration’s financial oversight initiatives. Whereas in the past it may have been acceptable for servicers to treat all borrowers uniformly, today, servicers are being pushed to double-down on active outreach.

Accordingly, it is crucial to refresh that fair servicing policy and create a fair servicing program, with attendant procedures, that reflects the environmental moment.

Honest Conversations — a podcast on minority homeownership

Join HousingWire this February as we aim to provide listeners with a greater perspective on how race, housing and wealth intersect, and what experts are doing to close the homeownership gap. Tune into HousingWire Daily every Wednesday to listen to our new miniseries, Honest Conversations, a show that will examine the state of minority homeownership.

Biden Means Business

On Jan. 26, President Biden signed an executive order committing to revitalize enforcement of fair lending laws to address the “ongoing legacies of residential segregation and discrimination [that] remain ever-present in our society.” The order pointed to the current racial gap in homeownership and the persistent undervaluation of properties owned by families of color as two such legacies.

Two days later, Acting CFPB Director Dave Uejio told staff the bureau’s twin priorities were protecting consumers facing financial hardship due to COVID-19 and racial equity.

This announcement promised additional supervisory and enforcement resources to ensure a “healthy docket intended to address racial equity.” It was accompanied by criticisms of mortgage servicer performance during the pandemic (even as servicers themselves disrupted by COVID-19 moved to remote operations and quickly began implementing new procedures to comply with a wave of requirements from regulators, legislators, and investors).

So What’s a Servicer to Do?

To be sure, mortgage servicers did not get a pass after the last financial crisis; the hammer dropped, but through a different legal vehicle. Regulators relied not on antidiscrimination laws, but on their sweeping authority to prohibit unfair and deceptive acts and practices to attack loss mitigation and foreclosure activities.

In so doing, the population of consumers who became focal points was broader, encompassing both members of protected classes and many others who were financially vulnerable.

Today’s cultural moment is potentially different than it was 10 years ago, and it is anticipated regulators will deploy the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and Fair Housing Act, and even state anti-discrimination laws, in novel ways to nudge servicers to do their part to support the equity agenda.

To that end, mortgage servicers should:

  • Clearly define the commitment to serving borrowers in a fair and equitable way. A clear fair servicing policy setting forth the expectations of the board, or management, is a must, ideally accompanied by a written fair servicing program detailing roles, responsibilities, and controls. Off-the-shelf training reciting the basics of ECOA, the FHA, and other anti-discrimination laws may check the box, but consider whether you’ll be proud showing that to the regulator when asked for your fair servicing training materials.
  • Confirm the sufficiency of outreach. At least one study has shown that borrowers in regions with a higher likelihood of COVID-19-related economic shocks and minority populations were more likely to obtain debt relief, but such results may not be sufficient to quell previously expressed policymaker concerns that investor and agency response has been insufficient to assist minority communities. The CARES Act forbearance requirements eliminated discretion regarding whether to offer forbearance, and on what terms, but servicers will undoubtedly be called upon to demonstrate that they engaged in sufficient outreach to offer borrowers of all races and ethnicities appropriate loss mitigation.
  • Lock in your LEP strategy. On her way out the door, former CFPB Director Kraninger issued guidance on how financial institutions should engage the millions of U.S. consumers for whom English is a second language. The challenge is significant, given the complexities inherent to explaining mortgage servicing, but servicers who have not thought through the process do so at their own peril, and will no doubt be called to account for a lack of preparation.
  • Document the great service you offered borrowers before making that referral to foreclosure. Hopefully a foreclosure tsunami like the one that hit during the last financial crisis can be avoided, but a backlog will surface given that foreclosures have essentially been frozen for almost a year. A good pre-referral checklist that documents outreach, consideration for a range of loss-mitigation options, and satisfaction of borrower concerns, will be critical for those called on to demonstrate to regulators their equitable treatment of borrowers. Servicers with sufficient account volume may also benefit from conducting fair lending statistical analytics regarding assistance and loss mitigation outcomes.

Mortgage servicers tend to focus on the detailed operational and technical challenges associated with regulatory requirements. Compliance with fair lending laws requires a different mindset — one that mortgage originators have long dealt with, but one that may be new to servicing operations. 

The Biden administration has made clear it will chart a course quite unlike its predecessor, and concerns over equity are likely to require servicers to build, or at least enhance, the many components of a fair servicing program.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of HousingWire’s editorial department and its owners.

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Sarah Wheeler at swheeler@housingwire.com

Source: housingwire.com

HUD vows to protect LGBTQ from housing discrimination

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced Thursday it will administer and enforce the Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

In a memorandum, HUD notes the policy set forth in President Joe Biden’s Executive Order 13988 on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation, which directed executive branch agencies to “examine further steps that could be taken to combat such discrimination.”

HUD offices and recipients of HUD funds will enforce the policy immediately, said Jeanine Worden, acting assistant secretary of HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

“Housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity demands urgent enforcement action,” Worden said. “Every person should be able to secure a roof over their head free from discrimination, and the action we are taking today will move us closer to that goal.”

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Specifically, the memorandum directs the following:

  • HUD will accept and investigate all jurisdictional complaints of sex discrimination, including discrimination because of gender identity or sexual orientation, and enforce the Fair Housing Act where it finds such discrimination occurred 
  • HUD will conduct all activities involving the application, interpretation, and enforcement of the Fair Housing Act’s prohibition on sex discrimination consistent with its conclusion that such discrimination includes discrimination because of sexual orientation and gender identity
  • State and local jurisdictions funded by HUD’s Fair Housing Assistance Program (FHAP) that enforce the Fair Housing Act through their HUD-certified substantially equivalent laws will be required to administer those laws to prohibit discrimination because of gender identity and sexual orientation
  • Organizations and agencies that receive grants through the Department’s Fair Housing Initiative Program (FHIP) must carry out their funded activities to also prevent and combat discrimination because of sexual orientation and gender identity. 
  • FHEO regional offices, FHAP agencies, and FHIP grantees are instructed to review, within 30 days, all records of allegations (inquiries, complaints, phone logs, etc.) received since Jan. 20, 2020, and notify persons who alleged discrimination because of gender identity or sexual orientation that their claims may be timely and jurisdictional for filing under this memorandum.

Sexual identity discrimination will also not be tolerated, HUD officials said. Per the outcome of Supreme Court case Bostock v Clayton County, the Court held that workplace prohibitions on sex discrimination include discrimination because of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Unfortunately, housing discrimination is the lived reality for many LGBTQ people in our country – and this is especially true for the transgender community,” said Erin Uritus, CEO of Out and Equal Workplace Advocates. “Housing is basic human right. “Thankfully, President Biden is bringing the full force of the federal government to bear so that no LGBTQ American will be denied a roof over their head just because of who they are or who they love.”

Studies have indicated that same-sex couples and transgender persons in communities across the country experience demonstrably less favorable treatment than their straight and cisgender counterparts when seeking rental housing, per HUD officials.

“Enforcing the Fair Housing Act to combat housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s the correct reading of the law after Bostock,” said Damon Smith, principal deputy general counsel. “We are simply saying that the same discrimination that the Supreme Court has said is illegal in the workplace is also illegal in the housing market.” 

On Tuesday, the Department of Justice withdrew HUD’s appeal of a case postponing the agency’s 2020 Disparate Impact Rule that would have made it harder to bring discrimination claims under the Fair Housing Act.

By withdrawing the appeal, the preliminary injunction under the case Massachusetts Fair Housing Center v. HUD will continue to delay implementation on the rule. According to DOJ court documents, HUD, along with HUD Acting Secretary Matt Ammon voluntarily moved to dismiss the appeal.

The rule, initially enacted in 2013 under the Obama administration, drew significant backlash from the housing industry after changes to the rule were made under former President Trump last year.

Criticism was especially apparent after then-HUD Secretary Ben Carson issued updated guidelines that imposed a specific, five-step approach that required regulators to prove intentional discrimination on the lender’s behalf.

Under HUD’s previous rule, lenders, landlords and other housing providers could be held liable for discrimination against protected classes even if it was not their intent to discriminate. The use of disparate impact was challenged all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the rule in 2015.

Source: housingwire.com

Biden tells HUD to reassess its Fair Housing policies

New U.S. President Joe Biden has put racial equality in housing at the top of his agenda in his first week in the White House.

On Tuesday he signed several executive orders, including one that directs the Department of Housing and Urban Development to reassess the impact of regulatory actions on fair housing policies and laws. It orders the HUD to ensure that the requirements of the Fair Housing Act are being followed.

The Hill reported that Biden’s order states that the Fair Housing Act “requires the federal government to advance fair housing and combat housing discrimination, including disparate impact discrimination that appears neutral but has an unjustified discriminatory effect in practice.”

Disparate impact is a legal doctrine that enables courts to consider certain policies and practices discriminatory if it is found that it has a disproportionately adverse impact on any group based on race, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or disability, and there is no legitimate business necessity for that policy. The U.S. Supreme Court found in its “Inclusive Communities” decision in 2015 that disparate impact is a cognizable form of discrimination within the Fair Housing Act.

Under President Donald Trump, the White House revised the HUD’s interpretation of the disparate impact rule, making it more difficult for plaintiffs to prove discrimination under this theory of proof, The Hill reported. Last year, a federal judge blocked the HUD from implementing that new rule.

Biden’s executive order calls for the HUD to reassess and determine if the disparate impact rule decreed under Trump hurts any group’s access to fair housing, and whether or not it should return to the previous standard.

Biden last week signed a series of executive orders that demanded the federal government “pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all”.

“The nation is ready for change,” Biden said on Tuesday. “But government has to change as well. We need to make equity and justice part of what we do every day … Again, I’m not promising we can end it tomorrow, but I promise you: We’re going to continue to make progress to eliminate systemic racism, and every branch of the White House and the federal government is going to be part of that effort.”

Source: realtybiznews.com