Know your rights when it comes to housing | Guest View
The legal actions taken against an Edmonds apartment landlord for discriminatory practices (“Justice Department sue Edmonds landlords,” Edmonds Beacon, March 9) serves as a reminder to us all that securing a home is one of the most significant events that any person will experience in his or her lifetime, one that should be entirely free of discrimination.
The Federal Fair Housing Act makes illegal any discrimination in the sale, lease or rental of housing, or making housing otherwise unavailable because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin.
Washington state laws provide even broader coverage and prohibit discrimination based on veteran/military status, creed, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity and HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C status.
Home sellers, home seekers and real estate professionals all have rights and responsibilities under federal, state and local laws. We must collectively strive to avoid both blatant or unwitting violations of Fair Housing laws, and to embrace diversity in our communities.
And so, a few reminders: (adapted from “Fair Housing in Washington state, 100 FAQs,” www.kingco.gov):
Home sellers/landlords may not:
• Establish discriminatory terms or conditions in the purchase or rental. Examples: sending violation notices to a Middle Eastern resident who breaks a rule, but not to a Caucasian resident who breaks the same rule; charging additional deposits to families with children.
• Deny that housing is available or advertise that the property is not available, when it is, to people in one of the protected classes listed above.
• Ask an applicant for proof of legal status just because he or she has an accent, speaks English poorly or just “looks foreign.”
• Refer people within a protected class to a building or neighborhood that would be “better suited” for them.
• Create, print or publish a notice, statement or advertisement that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on a protected class. Example: A newspaper or online ad stating “Apartment available for single person.”
• Fail to provide reasonable accommodation to a person with a disability or refusing to allow a disabled resident to make reasonable modifications. Examples: refusing to let a blind resident live with a guide dog; not permitting a person with a disability to install bathroom grab bars.
• Instruct the licensed broker or salesperson acting as your agent to convey for you any limitations in the sale or rental of a property. Example: asking one’s Realtor to not accept any offers from a buyer of a specific religion.
It has become commonplace for landlords/sellers in a competitive market to receive multiple offers, some with introduction “love letters” designed to appeal to the reader’s emotions and set the prospective tenant/buyer apart.
Such letters, if used, should strictly adhere to tangible qualities about the property, not the parties involved. It is advisable to avoid considering photos of prospective renters/buyers when reviewing offers for one’s property.
Price and terms should be the bottom line with any offer, and one risks committing fair housing violations when factoring in photos or descriptions of prospective buyers or tenants.
Home seekers have the right to expect that housing will be available without discrimination or other limitations based on protected class status. This includes the right to expect:
• Housing made available to you without discrimination;
• Equal professional service;
• The opportunity to consider a broad range of housing choices;
• No discriminatory limitations on communities or locations of housing;
• No discrimination in the financing, appraising, or insuring of housing;
• Reasonable accommodations in rules, practices and procedures for persons with disabilities;
• Non-discriminatory terms and conditions for the sale, rental, financing, or insuring of a dwelling; and
• To be free from harassment or intimidation for exercising your fair housing rights
Working together, we can continue our efforts to be a thriving community that welcomes and benefits from people of all backgrounds.
For more information on Fair Housing laws and practices, contact your Local, State or Federal Fair Housing agencies or support organizations:
US Dept of Housing and Urban Development, www.hud.gov
Washington state Human Rights Commission, www.hum.wa.gov
Fair Housing Center of Washington, www.fhcwashington.org
Snohomish County, http://snohomishcountywa.gov
Washington Realtors, http://www.warealtor.org
City of Edmonds Diversity Commission, http://www.edmondswa.gov/diversity-commission
Michelle Van Tassell is principal managing broker for Coldwell Banker Bain-Edmonds.