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Questions and Answers about Fair Housing

Here are answers to some common questions about Fair Housing, and some sample situations to illustrate how Fair Housing laws work in "real life."

Question: What is fair housing?

Answer: Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, commonly known as the Fair Housing Act, prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The 1988 Fair Housing Amendments Act expanded coverage to prohibit discrimination based on disability or familial status (presence of child under age of 18 and pregnant women) and established new enforcement mechanisms for HUD and the Department of Justice.

Question: What does your Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) do?

Answer: Our mission is to create equal housing opportunities for all persons living in America by administering laws that prohibit discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, and familial status. Regional FHEO offices accept and investigate complaints of housing discrimination from the public, monitor recipients of HUD funding for compliance with civil rights requirements, provide funding to non-profit, local and state fair housing organizations, offer fair housing training to the housing industry and conduct outreach to the public and provide technical assistance on fair housing issues.

Question: Where are you located and what area do you serve?

Answer: Our Regional office is in downtown Seattle, and we also have staff in Anchorage, Boise, Spokane and Portland. We serve the states of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

So how do Fair Housing laws apply to real life situations? Here are some examples:

Situation 1
John has been diagnosed with severe depression and is disabled as defined by the Fair Housing Act. His doctor prescribes John a dog to help alleviate some of his symptoms. John asks his landlord if he can have a dog as a reasonable accommodation for his disability. His landlord says yes, but tells John he'll need to pay a $250 pet deposit and must provide proof that the animal is trained.

Question: Did John's landlord correctly handle John's request under the Fair Housing Act? What if John wanted a cat or a ferret instead?

Answer: No, John's landlord did not handle his request correctly. The landlord cannot charge John a pet deposit for his animal because it is not a pet, but rather a service/companion animal required for disability. Further, the landlord cannot ask for proof that the animal is trained. Lastly, service/companion animals do not have to be just dogs; they can also be other animals, such as cats or ferrets.

Situation 2
Tasha and Steve have two children and are looking to rent a two-bedroom apartment at ABC Apartments. The manager tells them that they cannot rent there because ABC Apartments is for adults only. Tasha and Steve see 20 and 30 year olds living at the complex, but they see no children.

Question: Can the manager refuse to rent to them because they have children?

Answer: Unless ABC Apartments meet the criteria for senior housing (55+ and 62+) then the manager cannot refuse to rent to a family solely because they have children. Tasha and Steve could have a complaint under the Fair Housing Act.