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frequently asked questions
Frequently Asked Questions
Our organization is a private, non-profit organization. We promote equal access to housing by providing education, outreach, technical assistance, and access to enforcement related to federal, state, and local fair housing laws.
We are not a government agency, although we receive some of our funding from federal, state, and local jurisdictions. We are not a housing authority and do not administer Section 8 or other housing assistance programs. We are not a housing provider and do not have units available for rent or for sale; nor do we have shelter services or provide crisis housing.
We serve the entire state of Oregon and Clark County, Washington.
The FHCO was founded in 1990 as the first and only local organization dedicated solely to furthering and enforcing the Fair Housing Act’s protections across Oregon and SW Washington.
Through comprehensive community education and individual counseling the Fair Housing Council works to eliminate housing discrimination across Oregon and SW Washington and to guarantee the rights of all people to freely chose housing in the area they desire to live and for which they are financially qualified. Services provided by the Fair Housing Council include access to fair housing enforcement, and education and outreach about federal, state, and local fair housing laws.
Anyone with a fair housing question may contact us at:
Yes, for any languages we can’t accommodate with bilingual staff, we utilize the services of the AT&T Language Line or similar service. Such services make translators available to us via a three-way party line in over 160 languages.
Does the Fair Housing Council offer assistance to those with limited vision or hearing abilities?
Does the Fair Housing Council offer further accommodations?
Who Governs the Fair Council?
Hate crimes--be it against a particular race, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, etc.--harm individuals, families, neighborhoods and communities. A single incident can send fear throughout an entire community. When hate crimes are combined with housing--that is, are done at the victim's home, etc.--it's not only a criminal matter, it's a fair housing violation, as well.
Learn more at www.FHCO.org/hate_crimes.htm
Survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking have protections under the Washington Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (RCW 59.18) and Oregon's Revised Statutes (ORS Volume 14, Chapter 659A). These state laws effectively created another protected class in both states.
Learn more at www.FHCO.org/dv.htm
Housing discrimination is treating a person, or a group of persons, differently than others are treated under the same or similar circumstances, or denying the benefits or privileges provided to others. This is illegal if it is done based on one’s protected class status, or because of the protected class of those s/he associates with.
Denying an individual or group the right to purchase a home, secure a home loan orhomeowners insurance, buy or rent housing based on their protected status is illegal under federal, state and local fair housing laws and ordinances. Read on for much more detailed information…
For a discussion of the history of civil rights in housing and related resource information visit www.FHCO.org/history.htm.
Historically and statisically, identifiable groups of people have received unfavorable treatment with regard to history. In attempting to rent, buy, get a mortgage, or secure home insurance, etc. they have been denied, harassed, given less favorable terms and conditions, or experienced a lower level of service than other groups.
As a result, fair housing laws were enacted to protect against illegal housing discrimination based on “protected class status.” These laws prohibit illegal discrimination in housing on protected class status by housing providers, such as landlords and real estate companies as well as other entities, such as municipalities, banks or other lending institutions, and homeowners insurance companies. Neighbor-on-neighbor discrimination and harassment are also illegal under the law.
You can read the Fair Housing Act and other federal fair housing related laws and executive orders on our History of Fair Housing page, www.FHCO.org/history.htm
The intention of federal, state, and local fair housing laws is to require that all individuals be given the same treatment, the same services, and offered an equal opportunity to live in a home of their choice. In other words, the same rights as everyone else--realize that all of us fall within one or more protected classes and are all, therefore, protected under the law! The only "special rights" are those provided to individuals with disaiblities in order to establish equal opportunity.
The Fair Housing Act covers most housing. In some limited circumstances, housing operated by religious organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members may be excluded from complying with the Act.
The federal Fair Housing Act exempts owner-occupied buildings with no more than four single-family housing units sold or rented without the use of a broker per year. This is commonly referred to the “Mrs. Murphy’s exemption.”
However, Oregon law has removed this exemption for any housing provider operating within the state. There are very limited and narrow circumstances in with a landlord with a room-share (i.e.: roommates sharing private spaces such as a bathroom) situation may be exempt from portions of the Act. Please contact our Fair Housing Hotline at 503/223-8197 Ext. 2 (Portland metro area) or 800/424-3247 Ext. 2 or information@FHCO.org for detailed information.
Following are examples of the protections that the Fair Housing Act provides against. These and other acts or practices are illegal if based on one’s protected class status :
We encourage individuals who believe that they have been victims of illegal housing discrimination to contact us immediately at 800/424-3247 Ext. 2 or information@FHCO.org. You may also wish to review our Enforcement Flow Chart at www.FHCO.org/pdfs/EnfFlowChart.pdf.
Our Hotline staff will listen to your situation and determine how best to assist. FHCO staff will discuss your options, including filing a complaint with the appropriate government agency or bringing a lawsuit in federal or state court. Obtaining your own legal counsel is most often advisable in these situations.
Sometimes your concern may not involve an allegation of housing discrimination--for example, it might be a landlord / tenant law issue-- in which case, we will refer you to other appropriate services and organizations. (Look for information about Oregon and Washington's Landlord / Tenant Laws on our Links page at www.FHCO.org/links.htm.)
For additional information please contact our Fair Housing Hotline.
Gather as much information as you can to give to FHCO staff when you call the Fair Housing Hotline at 800/424-3247 Ext. 2. Write down the details of what happened, including dates, times, who was involved, as well as the names of possible witnesses. Keep an ongoing log of events. Save any written materials that relate to your case.
You have one year to file a complaint with the government, and two years to file a lawsuit in federal or state court.
It is illegal for a housing provider to retaliate against a housing consumer for inquiring about his / her fair housing rights, filing a discrimination complaint, or otherwise taking steps to legally protect his / her civil rights in housing. For more on this subject visit www.FHCO.org/pdfs/articles/FHretaliation.pdf.
We are frequently asked, “Is discrimination really still a problem”? Our resounding answer to this question is “YES!”
Nearly every time we conduct a training session we meet housing providers who are quite shocked to find the practices they have had in place for years are illegally discriminatory. There are always people who say, “I only rent to little old ladies” (to which another participant in one workshop replied, “What if it turns out to be Ma Barker?”). Housing providers comment that they do not rent to people who work in specific industries (forest products, fisheries, etc.), there are people who routinely refuse to rent to families with children, people who absolutely refuse to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities to most adequately live in their homes. We even have people who make openly discriminatory comments about particular locations because of the predominance of members of protected classes living there.
Any question of the existence of discrimination in our country is dispelled by the National Fair Housing Alliance's (NFHA) Fair Housing Trends Report which shows that, nationally, numbers of discrimination complaints filed by African-Americans and people with disabilities remain high. 32% of all discrimination complaints filed were based on race. 24% of complaints were based on disability discrimination, and 15% on familial status.
Testing and other research done in Texas and California has shown that Latinos encounter housing discrimination in their search for housing nearly 70% of the time. However, in many cases this discrimination goes unreported to enforcement agencies. We find that with other immigrant groups the numbers are even higher.
The NFHA report concludes that only about 1% of the incidents of housing discrimination are reported in complaints filed with enforcement agencies. And private agencies (such as the FHCO) receive nearly double the number of complaints received by governmental enforcement agencies.
A separate study, entitled “How Much Do We Know,” was conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) which set out to measure the public’s awareness of the nation’s fair housing laws. HUD did a follow up survey entitled "Do We Know More Now?" in 2006. From these studies HUD found that a total of 1,001 people across the nation were asked ten different hypothetical questions involving housing transactions and asked to identify which of the transactions, if any, involved illegal discrimination and if they did or did not approve of the actions taken by the housing provider (which included lenders, real estate agents, and home owners selling their homes). Eight of the scenarios included activities that are specifically referred to as illegal under the Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act.
Half of the people correctly identified six or more of the unlawful scenarios as illegal. Less than one fourth of the people questioned recognized the illegal activity in two or fewer scenarios. Virtually everyone knew it was illegal to limit sales or rentals to individuals based on race; however nearly 40% thought that it was legal and acceptable to refuse to rent to families with children.
It seems that no matter how hard we work, or how successful our programs are, we still have so far to go when it comes to creating equal access to housing for all.
Often, the Fair Housing Council is the first line of defense. We receive complaints from across Oregon and SW Washington. Each call is processed and assistance provided whenever possible.
For a visual on how complaints are processed view our Enforcement Flow Chart at www.FHCO.org/pdfs/EnfFlowChart.pdf.
The Fair Housing Council uses fair housing testing, a nationally recognized and court-tested practice aimed at identifying if an act of illegal housing discrimination has occurred. Both complaint-based and audit testing are conducted. FHCO investigates fair housing allegations in order to provide credible, independent evidence of a claim. The Fair Housing Council may assist victims in their pursuit of a fair housing violation claim with an appropriate government agency or private lawsuit.
In cases involving discrimination in home mortgage loans or home improvement loans, a suit may be filed under both the Fair Housing Act and / or the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.
The following agencies below are also involved in the enforcement of the Fair Housing Act.
These government agencies investigate individual cases of discrimination in housing. If they determine that reasonable cause exists to believe that a discrimination has occurred, then either the complainant or the respondent (the person against whom the complaint was filed) may elect to have the case heard in federal court. In those instances, the Department of Justice will bring the case on behalf of the individual complainant. The FHCO staff at 503/223-8197 Ext. 2 or 800/424-3247 Ext. 2 can put you in touch with the appropriate agency.
The DOJ may start a lawsuit where it has reason to believe that a person or entity is engaged in a "pattern or practice" of discrimination or where a denial of rights to a group of persons raises an issue of general public importance. Through these lawsuits, the DOJ can obtain money damages, both actual and punitive damages, for those individuals harmed by a defendant's discriminatory actions as well as preventing any further discriminatory conduct. The defendant may also be required to pay money penalties to the United States. In addition, brings cases where a housing discrimination complaint has been investigated by and HUD has issued a charge of discrimination and one of the parties has elected to go on to federal court. Finally, where force or a threat of force is used to deny or interfere with fair housing rights, the DOJ may begin criminal proceedings. The FHCO staff at 503/223-8197 Ext. 2 or 800/424-3247 Ext. 2 can put you in touch with the DOJ or you may visit their website at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt.
Yes! If a housing provider discriminates against a housing consumer because of the protected class status of his / her friends or associates it is illegal. A common example of this violation we see is the landlord who has no problem with his / her renter until the landlord realizes that the renter is dating someone of another race or ethnicity and, based on that, evicts the renter, harasses the renter, or otherwise treats him / her differently.
Federally funded properties may be required to provide translated documents and / or a translator in foreign languages under the HUD's Limited English Proficiency (LEP) regulations.
Read a brief FHCO article on the subject at www.FHCO.org/pdfs/WorkingWithLEPClients.pdf. You can find HUD's "Guidance to Federal Financial Assistance Recipients Regarding Title VI Prohibition Against National Origin Discriination Affecting Limited English Proficient Persons" and other information at www.LEP.gov. HUD offers a comprehensive "Self-Assessment and Planning Tool for Recipients of Federal Financial Assistance" at http://www.lep.gov/selfassesstool.htm. Additional tools, training, posters, etc. can be found at www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/promotingfh/lep.cfm
Unless a building or community qualifies as designated housing for older persons, a housing provider may not discriminate based on familial status. "Familial status"is defined as any household with one or more children under 18 including:
It is the illegal practice of treating families with children under the age of 18 differently housing transactions. This includes a prohibition on advertising "no children" in ads or to maintain a practice of turning away or treating families with children differently.
The only exemption to familial status protection is designated housing for older persons as defined as:
If you see or use any other definition of a “senior community” it is patently illegal. The most common violation we see is communities advertising housing for adults over 18; this is illegal.
If My Community Wants to Make a Rule to Ban Families from Renting or Buying We Just Make It a Rule and Enforce It?
The Fair Housing Act provides protection for discriminatory housing practices if they are based on a disability.
A disability is defined as any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities such as walking, seeing, hearing, thinking, self care, or a chronic condition (such as mental illness, AIDS, blindness, hearing impairment, mental retardation, mobility impairment, etc.). In addition, those who have a record of an impairment, or have been regarded as having such an impairment, are also covered. Recovering alcoholics and drug addicts are also considered to have a disability and are, therefore, covered by the law.
Besides not discriminating, housing providers may be required to make exceptions to rules, policies, and practices for people with disabilities in order for them to be able to gain full use and enjoyment of their housing. This comes in the form of a “reasonable accommodation” or a “reasonable modification” request.
Note: The Fair Housing Act requirements are not the same as the Americans with Disabilities Act, which you may have heard of. In particular, the protected afforded animals is different. You can read the Americans with Disabilities Act, as Amended in 2008 at http://www.access-board.gov/about/laws/ada-amendments.htm.
The Fair Housing Act requires that housing providers must "make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford <a person with a disability> an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling." 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3)(B).
One example of a common reasonable accommodation is the waiver of a “no pets” policy for an individual with a disability who requires an animal because of his / her disability. There are very narrow and specific reasons that a request for reasonable accommodation may be denied. Click here for more information on reasonable accommodations.
The Fair Housing Act also requires that housing providers allow a person with a disability to make reasonable modifications to the physical structure of the unit or the common areas, when such a modification may be necessary to afford a person with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.
A common example of a reasonable modification would be the installation of a ramp for an individual in a wheel chair to access the entrance to their unit. There are very narrow and specific reasons that a request for reasonable modification may be denied. Click here for more information on reasonable modifications.
If I Believe I Need a Reasonable Accommodation / Modification Because of My Disability, How Do I Qualify? What Do I Do?
Being able to substantiate one's disability is critical to requesting a reasonable accommodation or modification. In order to qualify, one must meet the statutory definition of having a "disability" (see above). If a person has a disability, the requested accommodation must be 1) necessary (i.e.: not just a ‘want’), 2) related to housing, and 3) related to the disability.
A person with a disability has the responsibility to make the request for the accommodation / modification. The request should address the three points listed above. Housing providers may not require that the request be in writing; however, we often advise people with disabilities to put their request in writing anyway as a means of promoting clarity and understanding. Housing providers, though, should begin assessing and evaluating a reasonable accommodation/modification request as soon as it is made, regardless of the manner in which it is made.
Housing providers have the right to verification of a reasonable accommodation / modification. This will come from a third-party person who has specialized knowledge of the person making the request, and the nexus between the person’s disability and the requested accommodation / modification. Typically these statements come from a professional such as a doctor, therapist, social worker, clergy, etc. However, there are instances when a family member or close personal friend may be the appropriate person to make such a verification statement. Note that neither the person making the request, or the person providing the verification needs to disclose the details of the disability, or provide a detailed medical history, to the housing provider. Visit the Sample Forms page at www.FHCO.org/forms.htm for a sample verification form.
Housing providers do have the right to assure work is done in a professional manner and with any needed permits and to code, if appropriate.
Is a Request for a Parking Space Because of a Physical Disability a Reasonable Accommodation or a Reasonable Modification?
Courts have treated requests for parking spaces as requests for a reasonable accommodation and have placed the responsibility for providing the parking space on the housing provider, even if provision of an accessible or assigned parking space results in some cost to the provider.
For example, a housing provider must provide an assigned space even though the housing provider has a policy of not assigning parking spaces or has a waiting list for available parking. Housing providers may not require persons with disabilities to pay extra fees as a condition of receiving accessible parking spaces. Providing a parking accommodation could include creating signage, repainting markings, redistributing spaces, and / or creating curb cuts.
Housing discrimination based on disability is one of the most common fair housing complaints we receive across Oregon and SW Washington. Many of the allegations involve discrimination against people with mental illnesses, especially in admissions to housing and requests for reasonable accommodation. Addressing discrimination based on mental illness is crucial. Considering the multitude of barriers that prevent people with mental illness from obtaining and maintaining stable housing, the occurrence of housing discrimination can be a devastating blow. Without stable housing, dealing with the challenges of mental illness becomes more complicated.
FHCO is a private, non-profit whose mission is to increase access to housing by fighting illegal housing discrimination. If a person with mental illness is having trouble in their housing, FHCO may be able to help. We offer assistance formulating accommodation / modification requests and may be able to help further if such a request is denied. FHCO’s services are free and confidential. Our staff has experience working with people with mental illness. In addition to assisting people whose fair housing rights have been violated, we provide technical assistance to case managers, advocates and family members who need information on fair housing law. FHCO also offers fair housing training to social service and service provider agencies. Please contact the Fair Housing Hotline at 503/223-8197 Ext. 2 (Portland metro area) or 800/424-3247 Ext. 2 or information@FHCO.org for assistance. For information about training or to schedule a public speaker on the topic visit www.FHCO.org/events_classes.htm.
The Fair Housing Act requires all "covered multifamily dwellings" designed and constructed for first occupancy after 03/13/91 to be accessible to and usable by people with disabilities. Covered multifamily dwellings are all dwelling units in buildings containing four or more units with one or more elevators, and all ground floor units in buildings containing four or more units, without an elevator.
The Fair Housing Act lists seven basic standards that must be met to comply with the access requirements of the Act. Those Requirements are:
For more information about the Act’s D&C requirements, visit our D&C page at FHCO.org/dc.htm.
It is perfectly within a housing provider’s right to restrict the presence of animals on the property and / or to prefer some animals over others. It is not illegal under fair housing laws to advertise such a preference.
It should be noted, however, that while a “no animals” statement is not necessarily a fair housing violation, it raises the question of whether or not the housing provider understands his / her obligation to allow a housing consumer to have an animal if it is a disability assistance animal. So while they may not allow dogs as pets, housing providers must allow assistance animals and they CAN NOT charge pet rent, a pet fee, or a pet deposit associated with the service animal. Click here for more information about service animals
Is It Okay to Advertise that a Home is in a “Quiet Neighborhood” or to Advertise That I’m Seeking a “Quiet Resident?"
“Looking for someone who is quiet…” can be very problematic. Using the term “quiet” has often been used as code for “no children,” especially when it is used to describe a desired resident. It’s entirely possible the advertiser does not intend to be discriminatory, but it is possible that a family with children would interpret such a written or verbal comment to mean that they are not the resident the housing provider was looking for unless their children were unusually (for children) quiet.
In contrast, the use of the term “quiet” to describe the property is more ambiguous, and very well may refer to the neighborhood in general (i.e.: the property is not near busy streets or near commercial or industrial land), but still raises questions about what is being communicated. By itself, this use of the term “quiet” would not be objectionable, but combined with the other use of the term it strengthens the inference that the landlord would prefer someone without children. Such a preference is plainly illegal based on familial status protection under fair housing laws.
Would It be Okay for Me to Say “I Only Speak English” in My Ads So that Interested Parties Know That I’m Not Bilingual?
An advertised statement such as, “I only speak English (or any other language)” raises very serious concerns and questions. While it may be a statement of fact, that alone is not sufficient to make it non-discriminatory. There are numerous statements of fact that could be seen as stating an illegal preference or discriminator limitation (e.g. “we do not have any Latino tenants”).
The statement may be motivated by a desire to inform non-English speaking housing consumers that some translation or other method of communicating may be needed; however, it is unlikely the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or the courts would find it overly burdensome to explain to prospective consumers, either over the phone or in person, that one does not speak their language.
It should be noted here that federally funded housing providers are required, in certain circumstances, to provide a translator and / or translated documents. For more information on this HUD requirement visit www.LEP.gov.
Even if the advertiser’s intent here is benign, a statement such as, “I only speak English” is problematic. Housing consumers may interpret it to mean non-English-speaking residents are not welcome which would be an example of a “chilling effect.” It also invites both housing consumers and providers to read the statement and get the impression that advertising language limitations is ok, and that this could eventually lead to a housing provider advertising that they only accept English-speaking residents which would be illegal under fair housing laws.
Yes. Although (any legal) source of income is protected under Oregon state fair housing laws, Section 8 vouchers are specifically exempted from this protection in Oregon. Landlords who do not accept Section 8 vouchers are not in violation of fair housing law.
The MFI, also known as Area Median Income (AMI), is an estimate of how much money people in your area earn. If you were able to see a list of all the incomes in your area from lowest to highest, the median would be the number in the middle of that list. One's income status ("low income," "very low income," etc.) is based on that number and is used to determine eligibility for housing assistance. You can contact your local public housing authority (PHA) to get the MFI in your area. To find your PHA, visit HUD.gov/offices/pih/pha/contacts.
Note that while the topics of affordability and the availability of housing subsidies are significant societal issues, these are not topics the Fair Housing Council can assist you with. If you have questions, be sure to contact your local public housing authority as indicated above.
FMR is the number used to determine how much a landlord can charge for rent in a specific area when housing costs are subsidized. The figure is determined by HUD. Contact your local public housing authority (PHA) to get the FMR in your area. To find your PHA, visit HUD.gov/offices/pih/pha/contacts.
Note that while the topics of affordability and the availability of housing subsidies are significant societal issues, these are not topics the Fair Housing Council can assist you with. If you have questions, be sure to contact your local public housing authority as indicated above.
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