The Fair Housing Act Protects People with Disabilities Against Discrimination

By Guest Blogger Bryan Greene, General Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

I’m Bryan Greene, General Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It’s a pleasure to blog again for in honor of Fair Housing Month. This April marks the 47th anniversary of the passage of the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing because of, among other things, a person’s disability.

In this post, I would like to highlight the issue of housing discrimination against deaf individuals, particularly the discriminatory treatment that prospective tenants who are deaf may experience when they contact housing providers. Deaf individuals who rely on assistive services, such as the Internet Protocol (IP) Relay system to conduct telephone calls, may experience less favorable treatment than non-deaf individuals. Some housing providers may refuse to discuss available units with deaf individuals, or may quote them higher prices or other inferior terms. If proven, such treatment of deaf individuals may violate the Fair Housing Act.

Recently, some of HUD’s fair housing partners have pursued cases involving allegations of discrimination against deaf prospective tenants. These groups alleged that testing they conducted revealed discrimination.

Testing is a way to compare the treatment of similar individuals who only differ on one characteristic, such as disability. It is one of the techniques used to investigate housing discrimination. Often, testing uses individuals posing as prospective tenants to find out if a housing provider will treat them differently. For example, two testers – one with and one without a disability – might contact the housing provider about the same unit in a similar time period. The testers would present themselves as being equally qualified to rent the unit. If, for instance, the housing provider tells the tester with a disability that the unit is not available, while offering to show the unit to the tester without a disability five minutes later, this could be evidence of discrimination. While an individual might suspect differential treatment, it can be difficult to prove. Thus, testing is an important investigative tool.

Last month, Access Living, a disability rights organization, sued several housing providers in Chicago, alleging that they discriminated against deaf individuals seeking apartments. Access Living conducted tests that allegedly showed housing providers “abruptly hanging up on the [deaf] tester, refusing to provide information, not returning phone calls, and/or providing different pricing information than was provided to the non-deaf tester.” In one lawsuit, Access Living alleged that a housing provider responded to a deaf tester by stating that none of the apartments were “handicapped safe.” Access Living, which receives a HUD Fair Housing Initiatives Program grant, conducted these tests with HUD funding.

Similar allegations have been made in other cases. Over the past year, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) and the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) reached nine settlements resolving allegations that housing providers in multiple states treated deaf testers using IP Relay less favorably than non-deaf testers when they inquired about renting an apartment. NFHA and NAD obtained $277,000 in the nine settlements. These complaints were filed with HUD, and while they were settled prior to investigation, HUD staff assisted with obtaining a resolution.

Finding the right place to live can be a challenge when one has a disability. HUD and our fair housing partners are committed to ensuring that individuals with disabilities do not face unlawful barriers.

Persons who believe they have experienced discrimination may file a complaint by contacting HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at (800) 669-9777 (voice) or (800) 927-9275 (TTY). Housing discrimination complaints may also be filed at or by downloading HUD’s free housing discrimination mobile application, which can be accessed through Apple devices, such as the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

About the Guest Blogger

Mr. Bryan Greene has devoted his professional career to fighting housing discrimination. From his start as a fair housing investigator in the Boston Regional Office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to his current position as the General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Mr. Greene has always worked to promote diverse, inclusive communities. Mr. Greene oversees the policy direction and operational management of HUD’s 580-person Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. Under his leadership, HUD has pursued large-scale high-profile cases that address systemic discrimination and provide widespread relief. Mr. Greene was the 2007 recipient of the Presidential Rank Award, the highest federal honor bestowed upon federal senior executives for outstanding service. Mr. Greene earned his degree in Government from Harvard University.

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