An individual’s private home has longstanding legal protection. It is twice-recognized in the Bill of Rights for its unique role in providing legal security. State and federal laws also add specific legal protections.
Ensuring legal protections for both renters and homeowners is important at the federal, state, and local levels. For homeowners, these protections may concern mortgages and other loans that have a direct impact on residents’ economic well-being (see Chapter 11, Financial Services and Consumer Products—Home Mortgage Lending and Reverse Mortgages). An important component of fair housing law is to ensure the civil rights of all residents. All residents have the right to remain in their community and be active without unfair treatment.
Supportive housing—the Civil Rights Act of 1968, also known as the Fair Housing Act, prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin in housing sales, rentals, and financing.
The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 added disability status and families with children to the list of protected classes. This law is intended to increase housing opportunities for people with disabilities. It prohibits landlords from discriminating on the basis of disability in admitting or evicting residents. Landlords also may not limit the rights of tenants with disabilities who comply with their lease. This law has had potentially important implications for 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. The act has ramifications for local regulations that bar residents from remaining in a facility if they cannot self-evacuate within a specified time. Legal challenges (some already successful) to these restrictive policies continue and will change significantly the character of some facilities.
The Housing For Older Persons Act—the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 added families with children as a protected class for the purposes of housing discrimination. However, it also made clear that housing intended for older adults could exclude families with children.
In 1995, Congress enacted the Housing for Older Persons Act to give more flexibility for people under 55 to live in housing developments for older adults. This was in part because older adults are increasingly caring for grandchildren and living in intergenerational arrangements (see also Chapter 12, Personal and Legal Rights—Intergenerational Cooperation). The 1995 law removed the requirement that housing for older adults have “significant facilities and services” specifically designed for the older adults.
Despite this positive development on the federal front, many state housing laws still have not yet incorporated the increased flexibility of the Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995.
Common interest developments—common interest developments (CIDs) are formal neighborhood associations that collect fees and enforce community rules. CIDs include homeowner associations, condominium and cooperative associations, and manufactured home cooperative community associations. They make many important community decisions. However, many basic resident rights are not guaranteed within CIDs unless the state laws governing such organizations specifically address them. These include the rights to security against foreclosure (see Chapter 11, Financial Services and Consumer Products—Mortgage Lending), alternative dispute resolution (see Chapter 12, Personal and Legal Rights—Alternative Dispute Resolution), disclosure of rules and charges, advocacy in association matters, voting rights, and oversight of officers.
Animal ownership—the Fair Housing Act requires that landlords 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.
Legal Rights for Residents: Policy
Common interest developments (CIDs)
States should enact laws to protect the informed ability of residents to participate meaningfully and affect decision making in CIDs and should develop procedures to help ensure residents’ rights and protect their home equity during disputes with a CID board or management.
People with disabilities
Governments should provide additional funds to build and modernize public housing in order to provide adequate supportive housing options for people with physical and mental disabilities.
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
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (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 and 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.