Complying with Fair Housing Law When Dealing with Older Applicants and Residents

In the September 2012 lesson, Fair Housing Coach reviews fair housing requirements with respect to older applicants and residents. Aging is not a protected characteristic under federal fair housing law, but there are many ways in which communities could face fair housing problems when dealing with older applicants and residents. Here are some tips from the September lesson:

Don’t Exclude Children Unless Community Qualifies as Senior Housing. Fair housing law bans discrimination based on familial status unless the community qualifies under the exemption as “housing for older persons.” Only qualified communities may exclude minor children, impose age limits, or market themselves to attract older prospects. Otherwise, it’s unlawful to exclude or otherwise discriminate against applicants or residents with minor children.

Strictly Comply with HOPA Requirements if Applicable. If your community operates as housing for persons 55 years or older, you must follow all the technical requirements necessary to maintain your exemption under the Housing for Older Persons Act (HOPA). If challenged in court, it’s up to you to prove that your community complied with all the steps required.

Avoid Violations of Other Fair Housing Requirements. The FHA exempts qualifying senior housing communities only from the familial status provisions to allow them to exclude or restrict children from living there. Otherwise, senior housing communities are like all other housing providers, which are bound by the remaining provisions of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and applicable state and local fair housing laws.

Guard Against Disability Discrimination During the Application Process. Dealing with older applicants and residents makes it especially important to ensure that the community doesn’t run afoul of the FHA’s disability-related provisions. For example, fair housing experts warn against inquiries or requirements regarding an applicant’s ability to “live independently,” which violate fair housing laws protecting individuals with disabilities.

Remember the Rules on Reasonable Accommodation Requests. Problems involving housing disputes often arise under the FHA’s requirements concerning requests for reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities. Reasonable accommodations are changes to rules, policies, and services to allow a person with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy his unit and common areas. Common examples include requests involving parking, assistance animals, live-in aides, motorized scooters and other assistive devices, and apartment transfers.

Be Prepared to Handle Accommodation Requests. Handling accommodation requests can be tricky, so it’s a good idea to adopt policies and to train your staff on how to recognize and promptly respond to requests for reasonable accommodations.

Address Accessibility and Modification Requests. Be prepared to address disability-related modification requests and other accessibility concerns. Fair housing law requires communities to permit applicants or residents with a disability, at their expense, to make reasonable modifications to the housing if necessary to afford them full enjoyment of the premises.

For an in-depth explanation of these rules—as well as a quiz to test your knowledge of them, see the September lesson, “How to Comply with Fair Housing Law When Dealing with Older Applicants and Residents,” available on our homepage or in our online Archive.