How to Comply with Fair Housing Rules Banning Sex Discrimination

September 23, 2011
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The October issue of Fair Housing Coach reviews the fair housing provisions banning discrimination based on sex. The law prohibits a broad array of discriminatory practices against either men or women because of their gender.

Federal fair housing law also recognizes sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination. In most cases, the perpetrators are property managers, employees, or contractors, but community owners may be liable for sexual harassment perpetrated by their agents if they knew about it, but failed to do anything to stop it.

Here are some tips from the October issue to help you recognize and head off a potential sex discrimination complaint:

Don’t screen out applicants based on their gender. It is unlawful to exclude either male or female applicants based on their gender, even if you believe you have legitimate reasons for doing so.

Apply reasonable screening criteria to applicants, regardless of their gender. Communities may investigate the background, financial ability, and general responsibility of applicants, but it is unlawful to subject applicants to more stringent rental requirements because of their gender.

Don’t express a preference for or against applicants based on gender. Be careful about what your staff says—over the phone, during office visits, or while showing units—to ensure that they do not express or imply a preference for or against applicants of either sex.

Enforce zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment. Develop a clear, written policy expressing a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment at your community by anyone working at your community—whether employed by you or performing services on your behalf.

Avoid discrimination complaints from domestic violence survivors. In some cases, domestic violence survivors who are denied housing, evicted, or deprived of assistance based on the violence in their homes may be entitled to protection under federal provisions banning sex discrimination, according to HUD. Furthermore, some states specifically ban discrimination against domestic violence survivors.

Avoid discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Although federal fair housing law does not currently prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, HUD has identified certain circumstances in which such cases may raise claims of sex discrimination under federal law.

For a complete discussion of this topic and the Coach’s Quiz, see the October issue of Fair Housing Coach, available by subscription at www.FairHousingCoach.com.