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AARP Fights Disability Discrimination in the Housing Market

AARP filed a brief on behalf of persons with disabilities who find barriers in the housing market despite laws that are supposed to guarantee access to housing.

Fair Housing Resource Center v. DJMS 4 Reasons Ltd. ("FHRC v. DJMS") addresses liability for allegedly discriminatory statements made about not wanting to accommodate people with disabilities by a housing provider.

The federal Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHA) ban discriminatory notices, statements, and advertisements in recognition of both the effects these statements have in deterring prospective renters and buyers before they can get in the door to apply for a home and to protect against the psychic injury caused by these statements. As part of its specific protections for people with disabilities, the FHA requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations to ensure equal housing opportunities.

The landlord in this case allegedly made repeated statements that he would not permit service animals on the premises and would not accommodate residents who needed such service animals, such as guide dogs, to rent there. The local fair housing center working on behalf of prospective tenants sued DJMS, alleging illegal statements and disability discrimination. The owner argued that he had no animosity against people with disabilities, only dogs — an argument that under the law should have been treated analogously to stating he would rent to people but not allow their wheelchairs. However, the trial court agreed that plaintiffs must show that the defendant intended to discriminate based on disability.
In a brief, filed by attorneys with AARP Foundation Litigation, AARP and the National Fair Housing Alliance in FHRC v. DJMS argue that a violation of the Fair Housing Act notice and statement provision does not require discriminatory intent or animus against the protected class. It is also unworkable. For instance, a landlord may not dislike men, but advertising an apartment for "women only" would be discriminatory nonetheless. Renters are often discouraged by statements made in print and verbally before they even file a formal application and are formally rejected. In addition, the brief argues that statements that reasonable accommodations will not be made are tantamount to statements that people with disabilities are not welcome.

What's at Stake
In 2007 nearly one-third of all U.S. households contained a person with a disability; and as the 65-and-over population expands quickly in the coming years and disabled veterans continue to return to the U.S., the number of people with a disability in this country will grow. One of the most pressing needs of this growing community is affordable, accessible housing. Already, for several years, claims of discrimination based on disability have constituted the largest number of housing discrimination claims filed with the federal government, constituting almost half all fair housing complaints received by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2006.

AARP is working in the legislatures and in the courts to ensure that people with disabilities are not precluded from housing choices and that the carefully crafted laws protecting their rights are fully enforced.

Case Status
Fair Housing Resource Center v. DJMS 4 Reasons Ltd. is before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

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