Early this year, the National Fair Housing Alliance, a Washington, D.C. based civil rights organization, was joined by the National Association for the Deaf and the Austin Tenants Council in filing complaints against nine apartment property owners and management companies alleging housing discrimination against deaf and hearing impaired individuals.
These complaints were filed after a year-long investigation by the above groups, as well as several other similar organizations. Specifically, two testers who were equally qualified financially, but one was deaf and the other was hearing impaired, contacted 117 apartment properties in 98 cities and 25 states in search of housing. The hearing impaired caller utilized a communication tool called IP Relay that relies on the use of an operator to translate the call.
Their treatment by the leasing agent was documented and compared. Results were then compiled in a report that concluded “one out of four companies treated deaf callers differently from hearing abled callers in a manner that appeared to violate the Fair Housing Act.” The report also offers recommendations for ways HUD, Congress and the rental housing industry can overcome rental discrimination. This investigation, and others like it, are largely funded by grants from HUD.
Fair housing enforcement occurs in many ways and it is not uncommon for enforcement to be initiated by testing programs like the one described here. Apartment owners and managers are reminded to review the law and obligations imposed on them with employees to reduce potential liability.