My friend Charlie* is looking for an apartment. He uses a wheelchair and is visibly disabled. Although he can afford most of the apartments he’s seen, has good credit and excellent references from former landlords, he’s been turned down for every single one after he’s gone to look at them.
Why? As one prospective landlord bluntly said to him “I don’t want to rent to you. There’ll be problems because you’re in a wheelchair that I don’t need to deal with.”
This landlord was the eighth on a list of ten who turned Charlie down in a row. And the landlord was surprised when he was contacted by a local attorney who informed him that he violated the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against a person with a disability. Many of those renting or selling housing who act in discriminatory ways toward the disabled may find themselves in this position as the years go on. Expectations of people with disabilities have risen and some, like Charlie, will seek legal redress when denied housing.
Charlie told me that he wants to rent an apartment near his aging mother to make things easier. He’s willing to jump through the legal hoops of filing complaints and possibly suing to have the same access to housing that able bodied people have enjoyed in our society. Not only does he need to solve his own personal situation, but he is doing it for other people with disabilities who may not have as many resources as he does.
“If nothing else,” he told me, “maybe some of these landlords will think twice next time before automatically closing the door on a qualified tenant who has a disability.” And he adds “Maybe it will save some young person from hearing those words ‘I don’t want to rent to you’.”
To file a fair housing complaint, call toll-free at (800) 699-9777 or (800) 543-8294 (TDD). Or visit HUD on the Internet at http://www.hud.gov/complaints/housediscrim.cfm to fill out a discrimination claim online. Local Boards of Realtors will also accept complaints alleging violations of the Code of Ethics filed by a home seeker who alleges discriminatory treatment in the availability, purchase or rental of housing.
[*For reasons of privacy, Charlie is a fictitious name.]
Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan