Fair Housing


The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing sales, rentals, and financing on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability status, or presence of children. The law makes clear, however, that housing intended for older adults could exclude families with children. Nevertheless, the Housing for Older Persons Act, enacted in 1995, gives more flexibility for people under 55 to live in housing developments for older adults. This was done in part because older adults are increasingly caring for grandchildren and living in intergenerational arrangements (see also Intergenerational Cooperation). The 1995 law removed the requirement that housing for older adults has “significant facilities and services” designed specifically for older adults. However, many state housing laws still have not yet incorporated this increased flexibility. 

Because disability status is a protected class, all new multifamily housing must meet basic accessibility requirements. In addition, tenants may make physical modifications to their unit or common areas to improve accessibility—for example, installing a ramp or grab bars, or lowering a countertop. Proprietors also must make certain reasonable accommodations in their rules and policies to permit tenants full use and enjoyment of the premises. 

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 imposes similar requirements on housing programs receiving federal funds. It also mandates that the housing provider pay for necessary and reasonable physical modifications up to certain limits. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 applies to the public areas of buildings. This includes multifamily residential buildings, which may have first-floor public or retail space, laundry areas, or rental offices. 

Adding disability as a protected class in the Fair Housing Act is intended to increase housing opportunities for people with disabilities. It prohibits proprietors from discriminating on the basis of disability status in admitting or evicting residents. Proprietors also may not limit the rights of tenants with disabilities who comply with their lease. This law has potentially important legal implications. It could affect situations in which housing and residential care providers require residents to move to a higher level of care when they need a walker or wheelchair, become incontinent, or need other assistance, or when local regulations bar residents from remaining in a facility if they cannot evacuate themselves within a specified time. 

Animal ownership: The Fair Housing Act requires that proprietors allow animals as reasonable accommodation for people who have a disability that requires such an animal. For example, a visually impaired person may have a guide dog. The Housing and Urban Renewal Recovery Act of 1983 requires that older adults in federally subsidized units be allowed to have a pet, subject to the reasonable rules and regulations of the housing sponsor. 

Source-of-income discrimination: This occurs when proprietors refuse to rent to a housing applicant solely because of that person’s lawful source of income. This generally includes a housing voucher, alimony, disability payment, federal or state assistance, and other benefits payments. Source-of-income discrimination can be a pretext for a prohibited form of discrimination. It disproportionately limits housing options for renters from communities of color, women, and people with disabilities. Some states and localities have banned source-of-income discrimination. Doing so makes it easier for older adults and others to find housing that is affordable and appropriate. It is particularly helpful for housing voucher recipients to be able to use them in high-opportunity neighborhoods with proximity to jobs and other amenities of a livable community. 



Protection against housing discrimination

Federal, state, and local laws should protect people from all forms of housing discrimination. These laws should be fully enforced. 

States should revise or modify their fair housing statutes or regulations to conform to federal law, which no longer requires that residential housing offer “significant facilities and services” to qualify as “housing for older adults.” 

Enforcement agencies should create an expedited complaint process for cases in which time is of the essence, such as when the allegedly illegal denial of housing results in a person being retained in a nursing home or other institution. 

Congress should address any judicial decision that limits the protections of individuals under the Fair Housing Act and other civil rights statutes. 

Congress should require the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to withhold Community Development Block Grants or HOME program funds from jurisdictions that fail to affirmatively further fair housing or remove regulatory barriers (such as inappropriate zoning) cited in the consolidated plan. 

Housing for people with disabilities

Governments should provide additional funds to build and modernize public housing in order to create adequate supportive housing options for people with physical and mental disabilities. 

Pet ownership: State and local governments should promote policies that allow pets in housing, subject to appropriate health and safety rules and regulations. 

Civil rights laws must continue to protect the right of consumers with disabilities to choose from the full range of physical settings and service models available in supportive housing. 

Housing for older adults: HUD should issue regulations that simplify and facilitate public housing authorities’ designation of buildings for older adults. 

HUD’s evaluation process should ensure that sites for federally assisted senior housing offer the best possible access to needed supportive services. They should allow project residents the opportunity to participate easily in the life of the community. 

HUD’s cost-containment regulations should not dictate the use of cheaper housing sites at the expense of long-term accessibility or safety for residents. 

Grandparents in subsidized housing: Policies on subsidized housing should be sensitive to the changing family needs of older adults who care for children and grandchildren.

Source-of-Income Discrimination

Federal, state, and local policymakers should enact, monitor for compliance, and fully enforce laws prohibiting housing discrimination on the basis of lawful source of income, including use of a housing voucher, disability benefits, or other assistance. Prohibited discrimination should include (but is not limited to) any of the following: 

  • refusing to show or rent a property; 
  • offering different terms and conditions; 
  • limiting access to facilities, services, repairs, or improvements; and 
  • advertising preferences for or limitations on particular sources of income. 

Policymakers should educate both tenants and proprietors about their legal rights and responsibilities, including with respect to housing vouchers (see Subsidized Housing in this chapter).