Eviction: Fair Housing
Frequently Asked Questions
Authored By: Florida Justice Technology Center
I think my landlord may be discriminating against me and I am worried about eviction.
There are state, federal, and local laws that protect you from discrimination in housing. Be careful - you may lose the right to have the court do anything about it if you do not bring it up at the time of eviction. Do not wait to report suspected housing discrimination. When you report the discrimination, be sure to also tell if you have been threatened with eviction or served with an eviction complaint.
What kinds of discrimination are illegal?
State and federal laws outlaw discrimination in housing based upon:
- National Origin
- Familial Status (having children under 18, being pregnant, or being a single father)
- Disability (mental, physical, developmental, and HIV-related disabilities)
- Sex (including sexual harassment)
Some local laws give even more protections. For example, in some places the local laws outlaw discrimination based on marital status, sexual preference, age, wealth, or source of income. You may have more protection than just those listed above.
Is there any rental housing that is not covered by these laws?
Yes. The Fair Housing Act does not apply to:
buildings if the landlord lives there and it has four or fewer units
single-family housing that is rented without a broker
housing that is rented by an organization that rents only to its members
There are other laws that make some kinds of discrimination illegal. If you have been discriminated against talk to a lawyer with experience in housing discrimination cases about what happened to you.
I have a disability and have heard about resonable accomodation. What is that?
A reasonable accommodation is a change in rules, policies, practices, or services so that a person with a disability will have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy his/her rented home or common space. A housing provider should do all s/he can to help but does not have to take on too much of a financial or administrative burden (but they do have to accept some expense/burden).
The law makes landlords give accommodations to prevent eviction when appropriate. For example, if you have a mental disability and get an eviction notice you (or your representative) can ask that the landlord stop the eviction to let you get medical treatment to help your symptoms causing the problems if the reason the landlord is evicting you is a result of your illness. The law makes the landlord grant this request unless s/he can show that letting you stay causes a real threat to the safety of other tenants and that there is nothing that can be done to make them safe while letting you stay and get help.
There is no list in the law of exactly what accommodations may be requested. The accommodations allowed by law are whatever you need in order to use and enjoy your housing.
How do I request a reasonable accomodation?
A request can be made just by asking, but the best way is to do so in writing. You should keep a copy with proof that it was sent (mail it return receipt requested or hand-deliver it with a witness). This is important so that you have proof that you made the request if you have to go to court to stop your eviction or if you need to report discrimination and there is an investigation. Include a date you want a reply so that your housing provider cannot just ignore your letter and then say that they did not deny your request but just were thinking about it for a long time.
See an example of a letter asking for a reasonable accomodation in the tab "letter" above.
How can I report housing discrimination?
- You can contact an agency funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the reporting of housing discrimination. To find one near you, search the list here
- You can file an online complaint or contact your regional HUD office by following this link
- You do not have to report the discrimination by yourself. If you have been the victim of housing discrimination you may be able to sue the person responsible in state or federal court. Contact a lawyer as soon as you suspect discrimination. Keep anything that you have gotten in writing or any texts or voicemails that might have to do with the behavior that you think is based upon discrimination. It is best to be represented by an attorney who has experience in civil rights litigation. When researching lawyers ask about what experience they have in this area of the law.
What if I have already received a summons and complaint for eviction?
If you have already been served with eviction papers you only have five days to file your response with the court. See the sections “Evictions: What Every Tenant Should Know,” and “Filing Your Answer to a Complaint” for more information. If you have evidence to prove a violation of the Fair Housing law you must raise it during the eviction case or you lose the right to bring it up later.
If you have a housing discrimination issue involved in your eviction case, you should do your best to immediately consult with an attorney. Search for lawyers with experience in civil rights matters. You can also contact agencies funded by the department of Housing and Urban Development. Ask if they have lawyers who can represent you or if they can put you in touch with an organization that can help. Be sure to mention that you are facing eviction and tell them your deadline. You can find contact information for these HUD-funded agencies here.
If you are representing yourself, you have to file your answer to the complaint within five days. See “Filing Your Answer to a Complaint”. In addition to responses to what the complaint says, you should add a heading that includes in the title “Affirmative Defense(s)” and continue numbering the paragraphs and explain the way that your housing provider violated the Fair Housing laws. When you are done you should include another heading that includes in the title “Counterclaim(s),” and continue with the numbered paragraphs to explain how your housing provider violated the Fair Housing laws. You have to tell the court at the end what you would like the court to do, for example, dismiss the eviction, give monetary damages, and/or other relief as needed.
What are some examples of Reasonable Accomodations?
- Reserving a parking place near her unit for a tenant with a disability that makes it hard to walk long distances, such as arthritis, partial paralysis from stroke, COPD, or amputation. The housing provider must pay the associated costs to mark this space as reserved for this particular tenant.
- Letting a friend of a disabled tenant use the laundry room to do the disabled tenant’s laundry for him even though the apartment rules exclude non-residents from using the laundry room.
- Requiring office staff to hand-deliver a copy of notices that are posted on a public notice board for all residents to read in the common area to a visually-impaired tenant’s apartment for her to read with a special device.
- An apartment complex with a “no pets” policy must let a blind man with a guide dog rent a home and keep his guide dog. Complexes that charge pet fees must waive those fees for service animals.
- Providing sign language interpreters. For example, at condominium association meetings a deaf woman who speaks ASL should be provided with an ASL interpreter if that is her preferred method.
- A tenant faces eviction for behavior that is a result of symptoms of a mental illness. Upon request, the landlord should stop eviction proceedings to allow the tenant to seek treatment (as long as the behavior isn’t posing a serious risk to other tenants).
Note: These are just some examples. Remember, there is no set list in the law of accommodations that you can request. The accommodations allowed by law are those that allow a person with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their housing.
Are there limits on accomodations my landlord has to grant?
Yes. Housing providers are expected to help and this includes bearing expenses associated with accommodations unless they cause an undue financial or administrative burden. They also can deny an accommodation that would require a fundamental alteration in the nature of its program.
Updated: April 19, 2017