Housing discrimination against people with disabilities is common, but with information and the assistance of the Fair Housing Center of Northeast Wisconsin (FHCNW), housing consumers can fight back.
In 2019, 58% of statewide housing discrimination complaints filed with the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council (MMFHC) alleged discrimination based at least in part on disability, making disability-related complaints the most common type received. (Thirty-three percent of complaints alleged discrimination based on race.)
Fair housing laws define “disability” quite broadly as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Covered disabilities may include physical disabilities, psychiatric disabilities and chronic mental illness, AIDS or HIV-positive status, as well as persons in recovery from drug or alcohol abuse. MMFHC and FHCNW assist housing consumers with many different kinds of disabilities.
Housing discrimination based on disability occurs in a variety of ways. Many complaints are filed by housing consumers who have been denied a reasonable accommodation or modification. Reasonable modifications in housing are changes to the physical structure that enable a person with a disability to reside there. Examples may include installation of ramps or bathroom grab bars, if the consumer is willing to pay for such modifications. Reasonable accommodations are changes to a housing provider’s rules, policies or procedures.
Examples of reasonable accommodations that housing providers may have to make for persons with disabilities include:
• Allowing a service animal as a reasonable accommodation to a no-pets rule, if a tenant requires a service animal because of their disability.
• Use of non-toxic or organic cleaning products in the common areas of an apartment building, as an accommodation for someone whose disability involves chemical sensitivities.
• Assigning a specific parking space for a tenant with a mobility impairment.
In other cases, people with disabilities experience discrimination when they are denied the opportunity to rent, buy, or otherwise obtain a home because of a disability. Discrimination also occurs when housing providers offer unfair terms and conditions to housing for persons with disabilities: for example, charging a higher security deposit for someone who uses a wheelchair than for someone who does not.
Fair Housing: How Much do You Know?
Every day, throughout our community, people seek one of our most basic needs: housing. While many people go through a housing transaction with few obstacles, others are illegally denied housing.
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that over two million acts of housing discrimination occur annually, yet few incidents are reported. The reasons for this discrepancy are simple: discrimination is often subtle, and few people know or understand the fair housing laws that protect them.
How well do you understand fair housing laws? Take this quiz and find out.
Q: Is it okay for a landlord to place all families with children on one floor of the building and all other occupants on a separate floor?
A: No. The Federal Fair Housing Act prohibits the discrimination on the basis of familial status. That means that no one can be denied access to housing opportunities based on their household composition, including the presence of children. Segregating a housing complex by floor or building is a violation of this law.
Q: I am single. Can a housing provider tell me that he prefers a household with a married couple?
A: No. A housing provider cannot deny anyone housing because of his or her marital status.
Q: I use a wheelchair. Can a landlord charge me a higher security deposit than other tenants?
A: No. A housing provider cannot create additional charges or fees for someone who requires a wheelchair or for any person with a disability.
Q: True or false: It’s legal for real estate agents to direct African-American home seekers to predominately African-American neighborhoods.
A: False. Steering restricts an individual’s housing choices and perpetuates segregation.
Q: True or false: Landlords who live in their own buildings don’t need to comply with fair housing laws.
A: False. The Wisconsin Open Housing Law has no exemptions for owner-occupied housing. There are exemptions for shared living facilities.
Q: I have a disability and use a dog as a service animal to help me live independently. When I applied to live at an apartment complex, the manager told me that no pets are allowed in the complex. Can I keep my dog?
A: If you have a disability and need a service animal in order to live independently, you have the right to request an accommodation to the housing provider’s “no pets” rule in order to keep your service animal. Housing providers are obligated to allow reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities.
Q: I’m 23 years old. A rental manager told me that he doesn’t rent to people under 25. Is this legal?
A: No. The Wisconsin Open Housing Law protects people 18 years of age and older from discrimination based on age. However, there are exemptions based on age for housing for the elderly.
If you feel that you may have experienced illegal housing discrimination, please call 1-877-647-3247, a toll-free complaint intake line. MMFHC assists people who have experienced illegal housing discrimination and unfair lending practices by conducting complaint intake, providing case management and counseling on options for legal remedy, and investigating housing discrimination through its Northeast Wisconsin satellite office, the FHCNW. MMFHC can help individuals achieve a legal remedy by filing complaints with government agencies or in a court of law. FHCNW also provides educational fair housing presentations to social service agencies, community groups and civic organizations.
If you think you may have been illegally denied housing on the basis of your race, national origin, sex, familial status, disability, age, lawful source of income, sexual orientation, or another characteristic, fight back! Call our toll-free statewide complaint intake hotline at 1-877-647-3247. For more information, please see the Fair Housing Center’s website, www.fairhousingwisconsin.com.
The Fair Housing Center of Northeast Wisconsin also provides educational presentations to neighborhood groups, social service agencies, religious congregations, and others about fair housing law and illegal housing discrimination. For more information on fair housing presentations, please call 920-560-4620.
For more information, call 920-560-4620 or visit www.fairhousingwisconsin.com.