By Kimberly A. Hallquist, Esq.
Disabilities Rights Center, Inc.
Published in Headway, Summer 2004 edition
It is hard to imagine how a person who has survived a traumatic brain
injury will be successful with the months of rehabilitation and medical
that might follow, without a place to call home. The availability of safe
and affordable housing is critically important to a TBI survivor as that
person will spend much energy on regaining speech, mobility and cognitive
functions. Having to deal with institutionalization for want of a place to
live in the community, or even homelessness, will severely compromise the
TBI survivor’s ability to concentrate on learning to live in the world
post-injury. Discrimination in housing based on one’s disability is
unfair, and in some cases, illegal.
A recent study conducted by the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority finds
that the demand for housing continues to outpace the supply. As New Hampshire’s
economy began to rebound in the 1990’s, there was a greater demand for
workers to fill jobs. As new workers moved into the state housing vacancies
dropped, creating a shortage of available units. When a shortage exists, rents
tend to rise, making it more difficult for lower income people to find housing
that they can afford. Since many in the disability community tend to be low
income, conditions of low housing vacancies makes it very difficult to assist
those with disabilities to find housing in the community. In addition to raising
rents, low vacancy rates also means that landlords will have several applicants
for an available unit, allowing him or her to choose among those with disabilities
and those without disabilities. Landlords may also decide to evict tenants
or not renew leases, knowing that it will be easy to refill the unit. It is
these practices; discrimination based on disability, that this article addresses.
Persons with disabilities can look to both state and federal law for protection
against discrimination in housing based on their disability. New Hampshire
RSA 354-A contains the Fair Housing provisions within the State Commission
For Human Rights statutes. Federal protection comes from the Fair Housing Act
(FHA), contained in Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which was amended
in 1988 to include disabilities as a protected classification. Another avenue
of federal protection can be found in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act,
which applies to programs that receive federal funding.
State anti-discrimination law
The state of New Hampshire declares that equal housing opportunity without
discrimination is a civil right. The law states in part: “The opportunity
to obtain housing without discrimination because of age, sex race, creed, color,
marital status, familial status, physical or mental disability or national
origin is hereby recognized and declared a civil right.” RSA 354-A:8.
It is unlawful to discriminate in the sale or rental of a dwelling unit because
the buyer or renter is disabled, because a person who will be living in the
unit is disabled or because any person associated with the buyer or renter
is disabled. Unlawful discrimination also includes the refusal of a landlord
to allow reasonable modifications to the premises, at the expense of the person
with a disability, where the modifications are necessary for the person to
be able to fully enjoy the premises. Reasonable modifications could include
installation of ramps, grab bars and air-conditioning. A landlord is also required
to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services.
Examples of reasonable accommodations include relaxation of a “no pet” policy
to allow a service animal or assigning a handicapped parking space to a tenant.
The provisions of RSA 354-A do not apply to the sale or rental of a single
family home if it is sold or rented by the owner, if the owner does not own
more than one such single family home and if the owner does not advertise or
utilize the services of a rental agent. It does not apply if the apartment
building contains three or fewer units and the owner lives in one of those
units nor does the law apply to situations where a room is being rented, if
there are not more than five such rentals in the building and if the owner,
or the owner’s family resides there as well. There are also limited exemptions
for religious organizations, private clubs and nonprofit organizations.
Federal anti-discrimination laws
Like the state law, the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) makes acts of discrimination
in the sale or rental of most residential property illegal. The obvious act
of discrimination would be to deny to rent or sell to a person because he or
she has a disability. Other forms of illegal discrimination include: a landlord
who sets different terms and conditions in the rental of a unit based on a
person’s disability, a landlord who falsely states to persons with disabilities
that there are no units available for rent and a landlord who provides different
housing services or facilities based on a person’s disability. Federal
law also covers discrimination by mortgage lenders.
As with state law, the FHA protects persons with disabilities in housing by
requiring that landlords allow reasonable modifications to the unit, at the
tenant’s expense, if those modifications are necessary for the person
to use and enjoy the housing. In this case, the landlord may require the tenant
to restore the property to its original condition once the unit is vacated.
A landlord cannot refuse to make reasonable accommodations in the rules and
policies or services provided.
Exempted from the law with respect to the sale or rental of housing units are
owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units and single family housing
that is sold or rented by the owner without the use of a real estate agent
or broker as well housing that is owned and operated religious organizations
and private clubs that limit occupancy to members.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act applies to programs that receive federal
financial and prohibits those programs from discriminating based on a person’s
disability. The types of programs covered are housing for the elderly and individuals
with disabilities and subsidized housing for low income families.
There are laws to protect people with disabilities from discrimatory practices
in housing. If you feel that your rights, or the rights of someone you know,
are being violated based on a disability, you need to take action. For more
information on your rights to fair housing, including how to file a complaint
and the applicable filing deadlines, please contact the Disabilities Rights
Center, Inc. at 1-800-228-0432, the NH Commission for Human Rights at 603-271-2767,
US Department of Housing and Urban Development, Fair Housing Hub, Boston at
1-800-827-5005, The Fair Housing Project at NH Legal Assistance at 1-800-921-1115
or your private attorney.
The Disabilities Rights Center provides protection and advocacy statewide for
people with disabilities. Learn more about the DRC and your rights by visiting
their website at www.drcnh.org.
last updated:February 2, 2009
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