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Intro to Fair Housing Month: What is fair housing?

Fair Housing is the right of everyone to have equitable access to housing and housing services. Equal access is the first step to ensuring greater equity across marginalized communities. While two people may both have a place to live, their living conditions may be very different. Where you live determines your access to transportation, jobs, education, healthcare, recreation, and healthy food. Communities like Seattle have a long history of housing discrimination and treating people differently. Another way to think about Fair Housing is the right to be free from housing discrimination.

The Fair Housing law covers almost every form of housing and applies to almost everyone involved in rental housing and housing sales. Whether you’re renting an apartment, buying a condominium, or in transitional housing, it’s covered under the law. You could be dealing with an owner, leasing agent, or homeowner association and fair housing will cover it.

At the most basic level, Fair Housing prohibits individual discrimination such as not renting to someone because of a protected class, like race. A protected class is a characteristic that is covered by the law. Seattle has an expansive list of protected classes which you can find here. Some common reasons people file claims with the Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) are that they believe they’ve been discriminated against due to disability, familial status, or use of a Section 8 voucher.

It’s important people know their rights so they can decide whether filing a claim is the right choice for them. Here are some examples of potential Fair Housing violations:

  • A Black applicant submits paperwork for a studio. The owner tells them there are no units available. A White applicant submits paperwork for a studio 30 minutes later to the same owner, who accepts the application and says there are two studios available.
  • A tenant lives on the 3rd floor and gets into a car accident that results in a physical disability. The tenant asks to be relocated to a 1st floor unit because the building doesn’t have an elevator and their disability makes taking the stairs difficult. The property manager denies the request.
  • An applicant starts filling out an application and it includes a box that asks if the applicant has been convicted of a crime in the last 7 years.
  • A gay tenant is late on the rent and is issued a 3-Day Notice to Pay or Vacate. A heterosexual tenant is late on rent for 3 months and is not issued a Notice.
  • A woman files a sexual harassment complaint against the Assistant Property Manager of the building where she lives. The woman is evicted 2 months later.
  • A renter has a Section 8 voucher and tells the owner when filling out the application. The owner says, “I don’t accept Section 8.”
  • A married couple has 3 children and they want to rent a 2-bedroom apartment. The manager tells them that a maximum of 4 people are allowed in a 2-bedroom so they can’t rent the unit.

As you can see, housing discrimination can take many forms. Whether you are a renter who is learning more about your rights or a property manager who needs to know how to comply with the law, contact us for more information. We’re here to help.