Research Paper: Discrimination in Housing

Pages: 5 (1718 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  Level: College Junior  ·  Topic: Urban Studies  ·  Buy This Paper

Discrimination in Housing

It is a violation of both state and federal law to discriminate in housing in Florida. The state law parallels federal laws, and both establish a group of protected classes, against whom it is illegal to discriminate in Florida. There are two federal housing laws that prohibit Discrimination in housing: the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Fair Housing Act Amendments of 1988. Florida's applicable statute is the Florida Fair Housing Act. Taken together, these state and federal laws prohibit discrimination in all aspects of housing, including the sale, rental advertising, financing, or provision of brokerage services related to housing.

Because the Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Fair Housing Act Amendments of 1988, 42 U.S.C.S. § 3601-3169 and 3631 are considered together, they will be discussed as a single group of federal laws governing discrimination. Taken together, they prohibit the discrimination against several protected classes of people. Discrimination in housing is prohibited if it is based upon race or color, religion, national original, familial status, age, disability, handicap, or gender (Stewart, 2013). These prohibitions apply in all aspects of housing, including the sale, rental advertising, financing, or provision of brokerage services related to housing. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) handles discrimination allegations. However, it can be very difficult to prove discrimination in sales because sales are often single-time transactions, where it can be difficult to prove that discrimination has occurred, even when discrimination exists. Therefore, examining these prohibitions as they relate to the landlord-tenant relationship can help explain how the Federal Fair Housing Act and the Fair Housing Act Amendments work together to prohibit discrimination.

Under federal law, a landlord is prohibited from engaging in discrimination in housing. The landlord may not make any statements indicating preferences or limitations in leasing that are based on any protected category (Stewart, 2013). A landlord cannot pretend that a rental unit is available because he finds an applicant undesirable. A landlord cannot have different standards for applicants from different groups, based on protected categories. A landlord cannot have a policy of refusing to rent to members of protected classes. A landlord cannot have policies that treat tenants differently based on their membership in different classes. A landlord cannot terminate a lease because of a discriminatory reason (Stewart, 2013). However, it is important to keep in mind that discrimination is based specifically on the protected classes established in the federal laws. For example, being a smoker is not a protected class. A landlord may discriminate against smokers in accepting applicants for tenants. In addition, even if smokers are overrepresented in one of the protected classes, the landlord would still have the ability to discriminate against smokers.

Many people are aware that overt discrimination is not permitted. People seem aware that one cannot fail to rent to members of one of the protected classes. Historically, it was not uncommon for neighborhoods to prohibit rentals or sales to non-whites, although the specific ethnic or racial groups targeted by that discrimination might change depending on time and place. Throughout American history, it has not been unusual to see signs stating, "No blacks allowed," "No Jews need apply," or "No Irish." This type of overt prohibition is prohibited. However, overt discrimination does not have to be put in negative terms. For an example, "an apartment ad that says 'safe Christian community,'" while not stating that any group would not be allowed, would also be overt discrimination "since applicants might reasonably conclude that Christians are preferred as tenants" (Stewart, 2013). Likewise, a landlord cannot offer discounts for people based on membership in groups denoting national origin.

However, subtle discrimination can be more difficult to identify. For example, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of national origin. It is not, however, illegal to refuse to rent to someone who is not a citizen, although some states prohibit such discrimination. However, the landlord who elects to ascertain citizenship prior to renting must do so with either all of its applicants or none of its applicants, rather than using apparent national origin as a proxy for helping establish citizenship status. Likewise, in most circumstance, race will be apparent when a landlord is talking to potential tenants. A landlord may discriminate based on race without stating race as a reason. This is considered indirect or subtle discrimination, rather than overt discrimination. The landlord does not state that he or she will not rent to members of certain minority groups; he just refuses to rent to members of those minority groups.

Gender discrimination is an area where subtle discrimination can be difficult to prove. Landlords may want to rent to only members of one gender, because of a belief that one gender is a better tenant. In addition, landlords may suggest that females are more vulnerable, and not want to place female tenants in first-floor apartments. These policies are prohibited. In addition, as with other areas of gender discrimination, it is illegal for landlords to condition tenancy on the performance of sexual favors, or to otherwise engage in sexually harassing behavior towards tenants.

One of the more pernicious categories of discrimination is family status. Some landlords do not want to rent to families with children, because of concerns, many of them legitimate, that children will be disruptive to the environment. In addition, many housing communities are targeted towards senior communities. Landlords may even want to refuse to rent to children for reasons that are not due to bias, such as a fear that children would not be safe in a dangerous building or neighborhood (Stewart, 2013). However, regardless of motive, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of family status. Furthermore, it can be tricky to define what is a single-family for the purposes of single-family status; in most cases, extended family members must be allowed as co-occupants, though a landlord can limit the number of people in the dwelling. However, landlords cannot attempt to use occupancy limits as a means of restricting families from occupying the buildings. HUD "has established minimum occupancy standards that regulate how low occupancy can go and still be legal" (Stewart, 2013). Generally, these standards include two people per bedroom, though they can be more restrictive under certain circumstances. On the other hand of the spectrum, it is illegal to discriminate against prospective tenants because of age, although landlords can refuse to rent to tenants that show signs of senility, which might prevent them from being "stable, reliable tenant(s)" (Stewart, 2013).

Landlords are further prevented from discriminating against people with physical or mental disabilities. This includes people currently suffering from such a disability, people who have previously had the disability, and people who may not actually have the disability but are perceived by others as having the disability. This includes people with mental and emotional impairments, although a landlord is allowed to use the same criteria to evaluate people with such impairments as it would other applicants. For example, a tenant who previously damaged an apartment because of a mental illness could have that incident considered by a landlord without the landlord violating fair housing laws. Furthermore, disabled tenants are entitled to have a landlord make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the tenant, such as allowing service animals into buildings that otherwise prohibit pets (Stewart, 2013). Landlords are not, however, required to undertake significant modifications to meet the needs of disabled tenants, though they cannot prohibit tenants from making those own modifications, at their own expense unless those changes require major structural alterations, and as long as the tenant undoes the modification upon moving out (Stewart, 2013). Furthermore, while both alcoholism and drug abuse are considered illnesses, the federal fair housing laws only extend limited protection in these areas. Recovering alcoholics and former drug addicts are protected, though they may have to show proof of treatment, and convictions for crimes other than usage (such as manufacturing, distribution, or driving while intoxicated) can be considered.

The Florida Fair Housing Act, Fl. Stat. § 760.20-760.37, reiterates many of the prohibitions founds in the federal laws. In addition, it contains essentially the same exceptions found in the federal laws. However, the Florida law is not redundant; it also provides specific state remedies for complaints of discrimination in housing, giving people who have suffered discrimination another venue for dispute resolution. Under Fl. Stat. § 760.34(7)(b), if the Florida Commission on Human Relations finds that a violation of the Fair Housing Act has occurred, it has the power to levy significant fines. A first time offender can be fined up to $10,000, a second time offender up to $25,000, and a third time offender up to $50,000 (Fl. Stat. § 760.34(7)(b)(1-3)). Therefore, the state can impose substantial penalties upon those who discriminate and housing, but also has the ability to consider intent, motive, and whether the person has an established pattern of discrimination, when determining the appropriate punishment. These penalties are separate from any applicable penalties under federal law.

Florida, which has… [END OF PREVIEW]

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