How Does the Fair Housing Act Impact the Co-Op Applicant Process?

The Fair Housing Act is a broad piece of legislation that offers protections for those living in, renting, selling or buying most types of housing - including cooperative housing arrangements.

Protections provided by the Act span to cover the sale and rental of housing, mortgage lending and additional protections for the disabled.

What Protections Are Available Under The Fair Housing Act?

Protections offered by the Fair Housing Act include making it unlawful to discriminate against applicants. It is prohibited to deny housing based on an individual's race, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or disability when selling or renting a home. It is also unlawful to negotiate or deny a sale based on those characteristics. In addition, those same characteristics cannot be used to deny or issue a mortgage with different terms.

If a disability is present, a resident must be allowed to make reasonable modifications to the dwelling at their own expense. In addition, any building with an elevator and four or more units that was opened after March 13, 1991 must provide wheelchair accessibility in all common areas. This includes ensuring all doors and hallways are wide enough for wheelchairs to pass and that bathrooms within the units have reinforced walls able to accommodated grab bars.

Housing communities must also not discriminate based on familial status. It is unlawful to deny housing based on the fact that a resident has one or more children under the age of 18.

There are some exemptions to the Act. These can include owner-occupied buildings that have four or fewer unites, single-family homes that do not use a broker and private organizations that allow occupancy only by members.

An additional exemption applies regarding familial status and the elderly. In most cases, housing specifically designed for the elderly is not seen as a violation of this law.

What Happens if an Applicant Alleges a Fair Housing Act Violation?

If an applicant to a cooperative housing community alleges a violation, a complaint may be filed. The complaint is sent to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD.

Complaint forms are available online. Those who do not have Internet access can send a letter to the HUD office that includes the applicant's name and address, the location of the person or board who allegedly violated the Fair Housing Act, the date of the violation and a short description of what happened.

Once filed, the complaint will be investigated by the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO). If the investigation finds that discrimination is present, a hearing with a HUD judge will be scheduled. Either side can choose to have the case removed from the HUD judge and instead go to court to proceed as a civil action.

How Does a Co-Op Board Balance the Membership Process and The Fair Housing Act?

In many co-op housing communities, the board will determine which applicants are accepted. The board will review the applicant and must make a determination without violating the Fair Housing Act.

In order to find this balance, the board must not reject an applicant based solely on his or her race, gender, national origin, religion, sexual preference, marital status or familial status. The board can, however, take into consideration factors that impact an applicant's ability to meet the financial obligations of the community as well as governing responsibilities.

Setting up a system that meets the board's needs without violating this Act can be difficult. As a result, it is wise to contact an experienced fair housing attorney to discuss the process and help avoid allegations of unlawful practices.