The Top 30: Fair Housing Requirements in the Nation’s Largest Cities
This month, the Coach reviews fair housing laws in 30 of the nation’s largest cities (based on the size of the population). It’s a must-read if you’re in those cities, but it’s helpful even if you’re not, since it shows how there can be different fair housing rules even for communities in the same state.
Depending on where you’re located, your community may be subject to local fair housing laws adopted by your county or city government. Across the country, many cities—large and small—have expanded fair housing protections well beyond what’s required under federal or state law.
In this issue, the Coach reviews local fair housing laws in 30 large cities across the country. We’ve included a checklist of additional protected classes in each city—along with four rules to help you comply with all applicable fair housing laws. Finally, you can take the Coach’s Quiz to see how much you’ve learned.
Coach’s Tip: This lesson covers the most recent information available on current federal, state, and local fair housing laws. It’ll give you a solid foundation on fair housing requirements, but it’s important to get legal advice on the particular state and local laws applicable to your community. And remember, the laws are changing all the time—particularly on the local level—so keep track of pending or newly enacted laws affecting your community.
WHAT DOES THE LAW SAY?
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is the federal law that bans discrimination based on seven protected classes: race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, and disability.
In addition, nearly all states have their own fair housing laws. Roughly half cover only the seven federally protected classes, but the others have expanded fair housing laws to add other protected characteristics, such as age and marital status. In recent years, states have been busy with proposals to add sexual orientation, gender identity, and source of income—though only one or two make it through to become law each year.
It’s a different story on the local level, where there’s more activity—and variety—in efforts to expand protections beyond federal and state requirements. Across the country, there’s been a marked uptick in local laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, particularly in cities where it’s not already covered under state law. And some cities have gone further to add other characteristics, including physical appearance, political affiliation or belief, arrest or criminal history, and immigration status.
ADDITIONAL PROTECTED CLASSES
UNDER LOCAL FAIR HOUSING LAWS
Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity
By far, this is the most commonly added protected class with the vast majority of the nation’s largest cities banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.
Generally speaking, sexual orientation means an individual’s actual or perceived orientation as heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual. Gender identity or expression refers to gender-related identity, appearance, expression, or behavior that differs from that traditionally associated with the individual’s sex at birth. Some laws specifically list sexual orientation and gender identity (and gender expression) and define those terms to spell out what they mean. In others, the laws themselves may refer only to sexual orientation or gender, but define those terms to cover both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
In 26 of the top 30 cities listed, half are covered under state laws protecting sexual orientation and gender identity. At last count, at least 19 states, plus the District of Columbia, ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, so all the communities in those states—including 13 of the cities on our top 30 list—are subject to state and local laws banning discrimination against LGBT individuals. In California, for example, communities in all four cities on our list are subject to state—as well as local—laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Even in the absence of statewide protections, many large cities have local laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. For example, three states, including New York, ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, but not gender identity. However, in New York City, both are covered under its local fair housing law.
And in states that don’t cover either sexual orientation or gender identity, many large cities—including 13 from our 30 top list—have adopted local fair housing laws to protect LGBT individuals from discrimination. In Ohio, for example, state law doesn’t cover sexual orientation or gender identity, but all three of the largest cities—Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati—all have city ordinances that do.
Nevertheless, since it’s a matter of local law, there may be differences in fair housing requirements within the same state. In Texas, for example, state fair housing law doesn’t cover sexual orientation or gender identity—and the same goes for Houston. But San Antonio, Dallas, and Austin all have added sexual orientation and gender identity to their local fair housing laws.
In 18 of the 30 cities, there are local fair housing laws banning discrimination based on marital status. In general, these laws prohibit communities from treating people differently based on whether they’re single, married, divorced, or widowed.
In 13 cities, it’s a matter of state law, which applies to all cities within the state. In California, for example, state fair housing law includes marital status, as do local laws in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco. Other large cities with both state and local fair housing protections based on marital status include Chicago, Detroit, and Boston.
In five of the nation’s largest cities, however, local lawmakers have added marital status in the absence of a statewide ban. In Pennsylvania, for example, state fair housing law doesn’t cover marital status, but Philadelphia has added marital status to its list of protected characteristics.
And in some states, this means that different cities within the same state have different fair housing rules. In Ohio, for example, where the law doesn’t cover marital status, the city of Cleveland protects marital status—though Columbus and Cincinnati do not. The same is true in Texas, where there are no additional state fair housing protections: Austin has added marital status, though Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas have not.
In 18 cities on our top 30 list, there are fair housing laws banning discrimination based on age. In many, it’s required under state law, but eight have added fair housing protections in the absence of a statewide ban on age discrimination. Sometimes, age is protected under both city and county laws. In Portland, Ore., for example, both city and county laws ban age discrimination.
Usually, laws banning age discrimination apply to adults by defining “age” to mean either the age of majority or individuals age 18 and older. But sometimes, the laws are aimed at banning discrimination against older applicants and residents by defining “age” to mean individuals who are 40 and older.
Source of Income
Half of the large cities on the top 30 list have added fair housing protections based on source of income. The specifics vary, but they generally prohibit discrimination against applicants and residents because of how they get their financial support. The laws apply to lawful sources of income, including wages, retirement benefits, child support, and public assistance.
Many—though not all—state and local laws also cover housing subsidies, particularly Section 8 vouchers (under the renamed Housing Choice Voucher program). Federal law doesn’t require participation in the Section 8 program, but state and local laws protecting source of income often make it unlawful to refuse to rent to Section 8 voucher holders if, with the voucher, the applicants would meet the community’s financial and other rental criteria.
In eight of the 30 top cities, state laws ban discrimination based on source of income, though they vary in whether they cover Section 8. In Boston, for example, Massachusetts law prohibits discrimination against those receiving public assistance or rent subsidies, including Section 8 housing vouchers. In California, state law bans discrimination based on source of income, but it doesn’t cover Section 8 vouchers. Nevertheless, San Francisco’s ban on discrimination based on source of income specifically covers rental assistance from any federal, state, local, or nonprofit-administered benefit or subsidy program.
Even in states that don’t cover source of income, many large cities—including seven of the top 30—have local fair housing laws protecting source of income, including Section 8 vouchers. In New York, for example, state fair housing law doesn’t cover source of income, but New York City’s fair housing law bans discrimination based on source of income, including Section 8 housing vouchers. Likewise, in Seattle, state fair housing law doesn’t cover source of income, but local law specifically bans discrimination based on use of a Section 8 certificate.
Sixteen of the 30 top cities have added fair housing protections based on ancestry. In all but three, it’s covered under state law.
Federal fair housing law bans discrimination based on national origin, but it doesn’t define “national origin,” leading to concern that it applied to discrimination based on where the applicant was born, not where his family came from. To address the issue, state and local lawmakers added ancestry to prohibit discrimination based upon the country of origin of an applicant or resident’s family.
Since then, HUD has clarified that federal law prohibiting discrimination based on national origin also covers ancestry. National origin discrimination means treating people differently because of their ancestry, ethnicity, birthplace, culture, or language, according to HUD. Consequently, it’s a violation of federal law to deny people housing opportunities because they or their family are from another country, because they have a name or accent associated with a national origin group, because they participate in certain customs associated with a national origin group, or because they are married to or associate with people of a certain national origin.
Federal fair housing law bans discrimination based on religion, but 11 of the top 30 cities have added creed to the list of protected classes under fair housing law. Creed is often covered under state law, but five cities, including Detroit and Atlanta, have local laws banning discrimination based on creed. In Baltimore, it’s covered under county law.
Federal fair housing law already covers religion, but it doesn’t define “religion.” Some state and local laws refer specifically to “religious creed,” suggesting that it applies to religious beliefs, though not necessarily participation in organized religion. Most refer only to creed and do not define the term, which could mean that it applies to any sincerely held religious or spiritual belief.
In nine of the top 30 cities, military status has been added to the list of protected characteristics. In all but two, it’s a matter of state law. Four states—New York, Illinois, Ohio, Washington, and Massachusetts—and the District of Columbia protect military status, though the laws vary in the language used and whom they cover.
In New York, the state’s fair housing law bans discrimination based on military status, but in others, fair housing protections for veterans are tied to the nature of their discharge. In Illinois, for example, the law bans discrimination based on both military status and “unfavorable discharge from military service.” In contrast, Washington’s fair housing law protects honorably discharged veteran or military status.
Ohio, which protects military status, defines that term to mean a person’s status in “service in the uniformed services.” In Cleveland, local law specifically bans discrimination based on “Vietnam-era or disabled veteran status.”
In the two cities where there’s no statewide protections, there are differences in who is covered under local law. In San Antonio, Texas, the law bans discrimination based an individual’s veteran status, and in Indianapolis, Ind., it’s based on “United States military service veteran status.”
In three of the top 30 cities, local fair housing laws ban discrimination against victims of domestic violence. In Chicago, it’s a matter of state law: Illinois includes “order of protection status” among its protected classes under state fair housing law. In the District of Columbia, fair housing law bans discrimination based on “status as a victim of an intrafamily offense.” And in Pennsylvania, where there’s no statewide protection, the city of Philadelphia bans discrimination based on “domestic or sexual violence victim status.”
Though only a few state and local fair housing laws specifically cover domestic victims, many argue discrimination against women who are victims of domestic violence violates federal law, which bans discrimination based on sex. In addition, many state and local governments have adopted specific laws to prevent communities from excluding an applicant based on a history of being a domestic violence victim or evicting residents because of the actions of their abusers.
Other Protected Classes
In some of the top 30 cities, local lawmakers have added a variety of other protected classes under local fair housing laws. In New York City, for example, the law bans discrimination based on alienage or citizenship status as well as domestic partnership status; Atlanta too covers domestic partnership status. In Los Angeles and Austin, Texas, local fair housing laws ban discrimination based on student status, while Washington, D.C., adds matriculation as a protected class.
In fact, Washington, D.C., adds a host of other protections, including family responsibilities, political affiliation, personal appearance, and place of residence or business. And in California, where the law has been interpreted to prohibit discrimination based on arbitrary characteristics, San Francisco specifically includes weight and height as protected classes.
In addition, five of the 30 largest cities are subject to state laws banning discrimination based on genetic information. There’s a growing trend to prohibit employment discrimination based on genetic information, but so far, only California and Massachusetts have added similar provisions to state fair housing laws.
To view the complete checklist, click here.
FOUR RULES TO ENSURE COMPLIANCE
WITH LOCAL FAIR HOUSING LAWS
Rule #1: Get to Know Local Fair Housing Laws
Become familiar with all fair housing laws that may apply to your community. Training often focuses on federal and state fair housing laws, but you’ll have to get to know local laws—both city and county—to fully protect your community from discrimination claims.
In roughly half the states, fair housing requirements are the same under federal and state law, which ban discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, and disability. Even in those states, however, there may be local fair housing laws that ban discrimination based on other characteristics. Here are just a few examples:
Louisville, Ky.: No additional protections under state law, but county law adds sexual orientation and gender identity.
Atlanta, Ga.: No additional protections under state law, but city law adds creed, sexual orientation, gender identity, and domestic relationship status.
Indianapolis, Ind.: No additional protections under state law, but local law adds age, ancestry, sexual orientation, gender identity, and military status.
Phoenix, Ariz.: No additional protections under state law, but city law adds sexual orientation and gender identity.
The same is true in states that have added extra fair housing protections, where local fair housing laws may ban discrimination against additional protected classes. Here are a couple of examples:
New York City: State law covers marital status, age, creed, sexual orientation, and military status—local fair housing law adds gender identity, source of income, partnership status, and alienage or citizenship status.
Chicago: State law covers marital status, age, ancestry, sexual orientation, gender identity, military status, and domestic violence status—local fair housing law adds source of income.
Rule #2: Do Your Own Homework
Check out local laws for yourself, particularly if you own or manage more than one community, because there may be different rules applicable to each community, even if they’re all located in the same state.
In Texas, for example, state law covers only the seven federally protected classes. Local law is the same in Houston, but in Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin, there are local laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. On top of that, San Antonio adds military status, and Austin adds a slew of other characteristics, including marital status, age, creed, student status, and most recently source of income—to protect Section 8 voucher holders—though that’s currently under appeal in federal court.
Likewise, in Florida, there are no additional classes under state law, but there are differences under local laws. For example, Jacksonville adds marital status, but Miami adds a lot more, including marital status, age, ancestry, sexual orientation, gender identity, and source of income.
Even in states that have added to federal requirements, like California, there may be significant differences in local fair housing laws. Although San Diego and San Jose haven’t added anything beyond that, Los Angeles has added student status. And San Francisco adds many more, including creed, height and weight, and—in a separate ordinance—protections based on arrest and conviction records.
The same is true in Ohio, where all three cities on our list—Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati—have local fair housing laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. On top of that, Columbus and Cleveland have added age, and Cleveland adds marital status.
Rule #3: Ensure that Policies and Training Cover Local Requirements
After learning about applicable state and local laws, put it into practice by making sure that they’re covered in your policies—and in your fair housing training.
Fair housing experts recommend having a set of comprehensive written policies and procedures to provide guiding principles to your staff in operating the community. Among other things, the policies should include a statement that your community does not discriminate based race, color, national origin, sex, familial status, disability, or religion—and any characteristics protected under state or local law. Training your staff and letting them know they are expected to refer to your policies and procedures during the normal course of business will increase the likelihood that those policies and procedures will be kept handy and applied consistently.
Make sure the training covers local—as well as federal and state fair housing laws. Chances are, your training efforts are primarily focused on federal and state fair housing requirements, since they’re the most common sources of fair housing complaints. Complaints involving local fair housing protections may not come up frequently, but when they do, the training will ensure that your staff is prepared to recognize—and know how to avoid—any potential sources of fair housing trouble.
Coach’s Tip: If you own or manage communities in more than one municipality or more than one state, you may be faced with different requirements under state or local law for each community. Rather than adopting a site-specific policy for each community, it’s a good idea to incorporate all the different state or local requirements in a comprehensive fair housing policy. Having one set of policies and procedures avoids confusion over which one applies to which community—particularly if your staff handles communities in various locations. It’s also more practical and less expensive to have one set of policies and procedures and to have just one training program for your entire staff.
Rule #4: Keep Track of Changes to State and Local Fair Housing Laws
To protect your community from fair housing trouble, stay on top of proposed changes to state and local fair housing laws. Each year, state and local governments consider proposals to expand fair housing laws to cover other protected classes, particularly hot-button issues, such as sexual orientation and gender identity as well as source of income.
Earlier this year, Utah passed legislation to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, with certain exemptions on religious grounds. And on the local level, lawmakers have added fair housing protections for LGBT individuals even when state lawmakers have not. In Oklahoma, for example, state law doesn’t cover sexual orientation or gender identity, but the city of Tulsa recently added those protections to its fair housing ordinance.
Meanwhile, keep on top of developments in efforts to adopt or expand laws banning discrimination based on source of income, particularly with respect to Section 8 housing vouchers. Earlier this year, Austin added those protections to the city fair housing ordinance, but it was put on hold for a time when challenged by the local apartment association. The hold has since been lifted—allowing the law to take effect—pending a ruling by a federal appeals court.
- Fair Housing Act: 42 USC §3601 et seq.
Take The Quiz Now
|July 2015 Coach's Quiz|