The Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of a person’s race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status or disability in connection with, inter alia, the sale or rental of housing, as well as the imposition of different terms and conditions in connection therewith. Most people seem to understand, and expect, that these fair housing principles apply in the rental housing context. Most people seem to understand that these fair housing principles also apply in the context of selling a home. However, many people do not seem to understand that the FHA’s proscriptions against discrimination also apply to the actions of condominium and homeowners associations, as well as to the actions of their agents.
For most of my career, I have dealt with fair housing issues in the context of multifamily rental housing, particularly as it applies in the assisted housing context, although I have also dealt with fair housing issues in the context of conventional, or non-assisted, rental housing. Recently, however, I have encountered fair housing issues arising in the context of condominium living, as well as living situations that are governed by a homeowner’s association. My conclusion: condominium and homeowners associations, along with their management companies (if applicable), truly do not seem to have a full grasp on, or understanding of, their obligations and responsibilities under the FHA and other applicable fair housing-related laws.
As an example, when a condominium unit owner, whose national origin derives from somewhere other than the U.S., fell behind in his monthly assessments, the association, through its management company, imposed a penalty on that unit owner, a penalty which had the effect of locking him out of his unit for an extended period of time. In order to access his unit, he had to rely upon other unit owners to provide him entry into the building. The problem? First, to the best of my knowledge, this particular penalty had never been imposed on any other unit owner. So, the association imposed different terms and conditions on this unit owner. Moreover, it did so without seemingly being sensitive to the individual’s ethnicity or national origin. In addition, even after the same unit owner asserted he was disabled and, therefore, needed a reasonable accommodation, neither the association nor its management agent took any steps to (1) verify that the unit owner was indeed disabled and (2) that, as a result of his disability, he needed what he was requesting in order to equally enjoy his housing.
Perhaps, it is less intuitive in this context since there is no rental or sale involved. Perhaps, there is a training gap between owners and managers of rental housing (not that such owners and managers can’t benefit from regular training), and condominium and homeowners associations. (There may even be a bit of a training gap between owners and managers of assisted housing and those of non-assisted housing.) While I suspect both play a role, I believe that a lack of, or inadequate, training is the primary culprit.
We can help close that training gap by providing targeted fair housing training.