How can I ensure my property is compliant with Fair Housing handicap laws?

According to the Fair Housing Act, a disability is a "Physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of such person's major life activities." To ensure that your property adheres to Fair Housing handicap guidelines, there are a few things to remember. 

Requirements for Construction and Design

All properties that consist of multi-family housing of four or more units built after March 13, 1991, are required to follow certain design requirements. Most blueprints drafted for modern housing should already include these requirements since compliance with ANSI standards A117.1 will fulfill the requirements. The seven requirements are:

  • At least one building entrance must be on an accessible route;
  • All public and common areas must be readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities;
  • All doors providing passage into and within all premises must be sufficiently wide for use by persons in wheelchairs;

All ground floor units and all units on floors served by elevators must have the following:

  • An accessible route into and through the dwelling;
  • Accessible light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats, and other environmental controls;
  • Reinforcements in bathroom walls to allow later installation of grab bars around the toilet, tub, and shower when needed;
  • Kitchens and bathrooms configured so that a person using a wheelchair can maneuver about the space

Reasonable Modifications

If a person with a disability wishes to make reasonable modifications to their living space, then it is unlawful to refuse them. However, as a property owner, you are not required to pay for the costs of the renovation. In some cases, a landlord may grant permission with the agreement that the renter will also cover the costs to restore the unit to its original condition before moving out.

Reasonable Accommodations

A landlord or rental agent cannot refuse to provide reasonable accommodations to their rules, policies, and services that will enable a disabled person to enjoy the full use of their unit. 

Examples of accommodations include:

  • Allowing an assistance animal in "no pets" community/housing
  • Lease application in large print
  • Permitting a live-in personal care attendant
  • Transfer to a more accessible unit/community
  • Installation of a reserved marked handicapped parking space

For more info, visit: fairhousing.com/fair-housing-101/fair-housing-and-disability-guide

Are emotional support animals protected by Fair Housing Laws?

Yes. Emotional support animals are also recognized as assistance animals by the federal Fair Housing Act. These animals are not recognized as "pets" by HUD and are considered a reasonable accommodation.

Assistance animals are not required to be certified or trained. A letter or form is required from your doctor, therapist, social worker, etc. stating that the animal is needed for support with your disability.

Will I have to pay more for a handicapped accessible unit?

No. Handicap accessible apartments should be the same cost per month as non-handicap accessible apartments. As part of the Fair Housing Act, landlords may not force unfair terms and conditions on you as a protected class.

What should I do if there are no handicap accessible units available?

If there are no handicap accessible units available, then you will probably have to make the necessary modifications yourself. If you have a doctor's note, you can fill out paperwork to make all of the necessary accommodations. Landlords cannot deny these changes, but you are responsible for the costs associated with modifying the unit and reverting it back to its original state.

You may be able to convince your landlord to keep the modifications since a handicap accessible unit could be more attractive to future tenants. This means you wouldn't have to pay to revert the unit back to its original layout.

Can Senior Living Communities deny housing to families with children?

Some can, and some can't. It all depends on how the housing community has been defined by the regulations of the Housing for Older Persons Act (HOPA). If your living community is listed as "62-and-older," then no one under the age of 62 may live there. The only exception is if residents under the age of 62 have a legally recognizable handicap. 

If your senior living community is defined as "55-and-older," then they may allow children as long as they fall under a few extra guidelines: 

  • If children are under the guardianship of a senior adult over the age of 55, then they are allowed to live there. 
  • At least 80 percent of the units must be rentable to seniors, but 20 percent may be rented to anyone.
  • While it is permitted for 55-and-older communities to allow residents under the age of 55, it is not required. Check to make sure that the community policy matches what you are looking for.
  • In 55-and-older living communities, children may be restricted from using public spaces like recreational rooms and swimming pools.

Can I deny an apartment unit to families with kids if I feel the location is unsafe for children?

No. Only parents may decide what is and is not safe for their children. While you may think you are doing what is right, that is actually a violation of the Fair Housing laws that protect familial status.

For example, let's say you feel that a family with children should not be living in a second-story unit because it has a balcony. If you prevent them from renting the unit, then you have discriminated against them and violated the law.

You may, however, make reasonable safety requests for the common areas as long as you have a "compelling reason." For example, you can require small children to be supervised if they are using the pool.

Can children be banned from using the facilities in a living community?

Since Families with children are a protected class under the law, home providers are not allowed to discriminate against children when it comes to living arrangements. This also includes provisions to prevent housing facilities from discriminating against family use of their facilities. Some examples of housing facilities include outdoor seating, swimming pools, fitness centers, clubhouses, courtyards, and outdoor areas.

However, housing providers may impose rules and regulations which limit the use of their facilities. These rules are put in place for the protection of children in the housing facility and must not discriminate against families with children.

For example, it is not discrimination to require children to be supervised by a parent or guardian. It is discrimination to ban children from facilities.

How can communities minimize problems when dealing with troublesome tenants?

Little can be done to prevent frivolous complaints, but communities have the means to expose the truth—and to protect themselves from liability under fair housing law. The key is to document the nature of the resident's misdeeds—including records of late or missing payments, complaints from neighbors, and ensuing investigations—and good faith efforts to resolve the problem short of eviction.

The key to dealing with troublesome tenants is to keep records of all your interactions. Ask other tenants who are also negatively affected to write a letter for your records stating how the situation affects them. If the individual falsely files a Fair Housing complaint, then you will want to have enough evidence to show you handled the situation appropriately and without discrimination.

What are the legal reasons that a landlord can reject a prospective tenant?

A landlord cannot reject tenants based on their status as a protected class, so they must base their selection on a set of pre-established objective criteria. This screening process must be the same for all tenants. Some examples of criteria a landlord may consider during the screening process may be:

  • Credit history
  • Income
  • History of nonpayment of rent
  • Prior bankruptcies
  • References
  • Some types of criminal convictions
  • Pets

Landlords take much into consideration when choosing tenants, and denial does not always mean discrimination. However, if you do suspect that you've been discriminated against, then fill out a complaint form here. 

Who is protected under federal fair housing law?

The federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits discrimination in housing because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, or disability.

For more info on Fair Housing laws, visit our What Is Fair Housing page.

What are all the protected classes in Delaware?

Delaware has a total of 13 protected classes: 

  • Race/Color
  • Religion
  • National Origin
  • Familial Status
  • Sex (Gender)
  • Disability Status
  • Marital Status
  • Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity
  • Creed
  • Age
  • Source of Income

For more information, visit the Delaware Division of Human Relation's website.

What are the penalties for housing discrimination?

A court or housing agency that finds that discrimination has taken place may order you, the landlord, to do one or more of the following:

  • rent the particular rental to the person who brought the discrimination charge
  • pay "actual" damages to an applicant you illegally rejected, such as additional rent the tenant had to pay elsewhere as a result of being turned down for your rental
  • pay "compensating" damages, such as for the tenant's humiliation or emotional distress, and/or
  • pay a civil penalty ($19,000 for the first violation alone).

On top of all of these imposed penalties, you will also have to pay attorney fees and other court-related fees. 

For especially outrageous discrimination, you may have to pay punitive damages of thousands of dollars, plus the tenant's attorney fees.

Who may be held liable for fair housing violations?

Community owners, property managers, individual employees, and outside contractors—along with real estate professionals and others—may be held liable for housing discrimination under federal fair housing law.

Since discrimination is very hurtful to anyone, the laws take these matters very seriously. That is why we recommend anyone who is involved in the housing market should seek Fair Housing training.

What conduct is banned under fair housing law?

Among other things, fair housing law bans certain rental practices if based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status, including:
• Refusing to rent or negotiate for housing.
• Setting different terms, conditions, or privileges for the rental of housing, such as different lease provisions related to rental charges, security deposits, and other lease terms.
• Threatening, coercing, intimidating, or interfering with anyone exercising a fair housing right or assisting others who exercise that right.

How does fair housing law apply to advertising?

Under the FHA, it's unlawful to make, print, or publish any notice, statement, or advertisement related to the rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on a protected characteristic.

For example, you cannot say in a flyer that your property is perfect for "active adults," since that discriminates against people with disabilities, families with children, and the elderly.

While there are certain exceptions in the Fair Housing laws for some private landowners choosing tenants, discrimination in advertising is strictly prohibited for anyone.

What property is exempt from the federal Fair Housing Act?

Not everyone is subject to all Federal Fair Housing laws. There are a few exceptions to the law when it comes to selling or renting your property. These exemptions include:

  • Senior housing: Housing qualifies for this exemption if 1) HUD has made a determination that the dwelling is designed and occupied by elderly residents under a local, state, or federal program; or 2) all residents are 62 or older, or 3) at least one person who is 55 years old or older resides in 80 percent of the occupied units and the public is made aware that the housing unit intends to provide senior housing to people 55 or older.
  • Owner-occupied housing: You are exempt if you live in the same building that you rent out, as long as there are four or fewer units available. For instance, if you own your home and rent out some of your rooms, then you are exempt from federal Fair Housing laws.
  • Some owners of single-family homes: You are also exempt if your single-family home is privately owned and rented without the use of a real estate broker. However, discriminatory advertising is still prohibited.
  • Some housing owned by religious organizations and private clubs: In this exception, organizations and private clubs may limit the residency of a building to only members of the club or group.

Local and state housing discrimination laws may still apply to federally exempt property, however.

Can someone who isn't a member of a protected class file a fair housing complaint?

es, anyone injured by a violation of fair housing law may file a claim. The law recognizes claims by prospects, applicants, and residents who suffer discrimination because they are members of a protected class—or because their household members, relatives, friends, or guests are members of a protected class.

If you need help filing a Fair Housing complaint, visit our Help Filing A Complaint page.

How can I find affordable housing?

There is a wealth of resources available for affordable housing in Sussex County, Delaware. Generally, there are a few types of affordable housing: 

  • Public housing such as apartment complexes owned by a Housing Authority. You pay your portion of the rent each month, and the government pays the rest.
  • With the use of Housing Choice Vouchers. Formerly called "Section 8 Vouchers," these let you chose the rental unit you want. The voucher holders pay their portion each month, and the voucher pays the rest.
  • Subsidized housing sites offer rent based on your household income according to federal regulations. You pay your share of the rent each month, and the government pays the rest. Unlike a Choice Voucher, you cannot take the subsidy with you when you move out. This is because the government subsidizes the sites themselves. 
  • Tax Credit sites are not subsidized by the government but are still considered affordable. This is because they offer lower than market-rate rent to individuals and families with less than average income. Unlike the other options, you are required to pay the full amount in rent each month and must have a minimum income to qualify.

For more information on rental programs and affordable housing in Sussex County Delaware, visit these resources: