Fair Housing Trends: What Landlords Need to Know

Posted by Stephen Marshall on

Every year, the National Fair Housing Alliance issues a report on Fair Housing Trends from the prior year. The report reviews the most recent data on claims of housing discrimination across the country. In April 2018, the NFHA’s 2018 Fair Housing Trends Report was released. You can read the full report using this link. Here are the highlights:

I’m always most interested in two things in the report: (1) statistics on housing discrimination claims and (2) important housing discrimination cases. Today, I’m just going to review the statistical data regarding the housing discrimination complaints filed in 2017.

2017 Housing Discrimination Overview

Housing Discrimination Complaints Filed

Overall, there were 28,843 housing discrimination complaints filed in 2017, which is a slight increase over the 28,181 filed in 2016. These complaints were processed by one of four types of agencies:

  1. State and local Fair Housing Assistance Program Agencies (FHAPs) – E.g., your state and local Human Rights Commissions. These groups processed 24% of all complaints.
  2. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) – Processed five percent of all complaints.
  3. The Department of Justice (DOJ) – processed .01% of all complaints.
  4. Private, nonprofit fair housing organizations (FHOs) – E.g., the Lexington Fair Housing Council. These groups processed over 71% of all complaints.

Types of Complaints Filed

By far the most common basis for these complaints was disability. 56.7% of the housing discrimination complaints filed in 2017 were based on disability, a total of 16,337 cases. My guess is that a substantial number involved Assistance Animals. The remaining complaints had the following breakdown:

  • Race – 18.5% or 5,346 cases
  • Familial Status – 9.3% or 2,675 cases
  • National Origin – 6.8% or 1,951 cases
  • Gender – 6.7% or 1,917 cases
  • Color – 1.5% or 422 cases
  • Religion – 1.3% or 383 cases.

Types of Transactions Covered

As you likely know, the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in all types of real estate and housing-related transactions, which means that it applies beyond the rental industry. However, the rental industry is where the vast majority of the complaints were filed. Here’s the breakdown by transaction type:

  • Rental Housing – 17,989 complaints
  • Real Estate Sales – 317 complaints
  • Mortgage Lending – 229 complaints
  • Homeowners’ Insurance transactions – 23 complaints
  • Harassment – 747 complaints. Note: many of these likely took place in rental settings and should therefore be added to the rental housing number above.
  • Other – 1,290 complaints. This category includes discriminatory advertising, discrimination by HOAs or condominium associations, or zoning and land-use discrimination. It is likely that many of the discriminatory advertising complaints involved the rental industry, thus adding to the number above. 

Resolution of Cases

As many of you know, many housing discrimination cases take a while to reach completion. While 28,883 complaints were filed in 2017, only 8,044 cases reached completion, with a number of those likely being cases filed in 2016 or before. They were resolved as follows:

  • No-Cause Finding – 3,811 cases (47%). In these cases, the investigating agency found no cause to believe that housing discrimination had occurred.
  • Conciliation/Settlement – 2,249 cases (28%). In these cases, the parties reached an agreement resolving the case.
  • Administrative Closure – 839 cases (1.0%). These are cases where the complaint was filed too late or in the wrong jurisdiction, where the complaint was withdrawn by the person bringing it, or where the accused could not be located.
  • Withdrawn After Resolution – 738 cases (.09%). As the name suggests, these are cases where the complaint was withdrawn after the matter was resolved, typically by agreement of the parties.
  • Charged – 402 cases (.05%). These are cases where the agency completed its investigation and found cause to believe housing discrimination had occurred.

Two Lessons from the Data

1. Disability remains the most prevalent issue, both nationally and locally. There’s little doubt that the Assistance Animal issue factors heavily in many of these disability cases that were filed. Beyond that, the disabled population is growing, with diagnoses of mental and emotional disabilities at an all-time high. Thus, it’s wise for all landlords to have a clearly defined policy for dealing with tenants and applicants who request accommodations or modifications based on disability.

2. There are relatively few findings of housing discrimination. It’s noteworthy that less than one percent (only .05%) of all cases brought to completion in 2017 resulted in charge that housing discrimination had occurred. While there’s no doubt that some of the cases that were Conciliated/Settled would have resulted in a charge against the housing provider, there’s also no doubt that many of those cases settled either (1) on terms that were favorable to the housing provider because there was no merit to the complaint or (2) because the landlord chose to settle quickly instead of incurring the cost of the defending the matter. I’ve seen both occur on numerous occasions.

The fact that such a small number of complaints resulted in charges is a positive sign for landlords in that it shows that there are few actual instances of housing discrimination (yes, I understand that not all instances get reported). However, it also a frustrating sign, as it means that many of the housing discrimination complaints that get filed have no merit. If we assume that half of the settled cases involved housing discrimination (from my practice, that is a high estimate), the result is that of the 8,044 complaints that were brought to completion in 2017, only 1,527 of them involved actual housing discrimination, which is less than 20% of cases. Given that landlords typically have to pay to defend their position during these investigations, knowing that 80% of the time no discrimination has occurred is a bitter pill to swallow.  

Coming Up

That's it for today. Next week we'll take a look at some highlighted cases from 2017. As always, if you have questions about these or other legal issues, contact your friendly neighborhood attorney.

Also, be sure to mark your calendar for October 17. I'm having my final Landlord Education Conference of 2018 that morning, where we'll cover Fair Housing issues related to disability, familial status, and the proper use of criminal records. Registration will open on September 1. Hope you can make it. 

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