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FAIR
HOUSING
COUNCIL

of Greater San Antonio
     

Your Rights

Protected Classes

Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, along with the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, is called the Fair Housing Act. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in most housing because of a person’s:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Familial status
  • Disability

In San Antonio, the local ordinance includes age, sexual orientation, gender identity, and veteran status as additional protected classes.

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Discriminatory Housing Practices

The Fair Housing Act provides that in the rental and sale of most housing, it is unlawful for any housing provider to take any of the following actions against a person because of his or her race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and/or handicap:

  • Refuse to rent or sell housing
  • Refuse to negotiate for housing
  • Impose different sale prices or rental charges for a dwelling
  • Evict tenants because of their race or the race of their guests
  • Otherwise make housing unavailable or deny housing
  • Set different terms, conditions, or privileges for the rental or sale of a dwelling (example: a landlord cannot demand an additional security deposit because you are disabled or have children)
  • Deny or limit services because a tenant refused to provide sexual favors
  • Delay or fail to perform maintenance or repairs to dwelling units
  • Falsely deny that housing is available for inspection, sale, or rental
  • Advertise or make any statement with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination (example: a landlord cannot post an advertisement that states, “Two bedroom, two bath for rent, $600 a month, NO KIDS, ADULTS ONLY”)
  • Assign any person to a particular section of a complex or neighborhood or to a particular floor of a building
  • Discourage the purchase or rental of a dwelling by exaggerating drawbacks or failing to inform any person of desirable features of a dwelling, community, neighborhood, or development
  • Communicate to any prospective resident that he or she would not be comfortable with existing residents of a community, neighborhood, or development
  • Threaten, coerce, or intimidate anyone for exercising his/her fair housing rights or for assisting others in exercising their rights

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Prohibitions Based on Disability

In addition, with respect to persons with disabilities, the Fair Housing Act provides that in the rental or sale of most housing, it is unlawful, based on a person’s disability, for a housing provider to:

  • Ask a tenant or applicant if he/she has a disability or inquire about the nature or severity of his/her disability
  • Refuse to permit a disabled tenant, at the tenant’s expense, to make reasonable modifications to existing premises if the proposed modifications may be necessary to afford the disabled tenant full enjoyment of the premises of a dwelling
  • Refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a disabled person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling unit
  • Fail to design and construct covered multi-family apartment complexes that were built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, so that they comply with the Fair Housing Act’s accessibility requirements

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Inquiries About Nature/Severity of Disability

In general, under the Fair Housing Act, a housing provider cannot make an inquiry to determine whether an applicant has a disability or an inquiry as to the nature or severity of an applicant’s disability. In addition, a landlord cannot ask whether any of the applicant’s family members, friends, or associates have a disability. For example, a housing provider cannot ask the following questions:

  1. Can you live independently?
  2. Have you ever been treated by a psychiatrist?
  3. Do you take any prescription drugs?
  4. Have you been hospitalized recently?
  5. Have you ever seen a psychiatrist?

However, a landlord can make the following inquiries, provided these inquiries are made of all applicants, whether or not they have disabilities:

  1. inquiry into an applicant’s ability to meet the requirements of ownership or tenancy;
  2. inquiry to determine whether an applicant is qualified for a dwelling available only to persons with disabilities or to persons with a particular type of disability;
  3. inquiry to determine whether an applicant for a dwelling is qualified for a priority available to persons with disabilities or to persons with a particular type of disability;
  4. inquiry about whether an applicant for a dwelling is a current illegal abuser or addict of a controlled substance;
  5. inquiry about whether an applicant has been convicted of the illegal manufacture or distribution of a controlled substance.

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Reasonable Accommodations

It is a violation of the Fair Housing Act for housing providers to refuse to make a reasonable accommodation in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a disabled person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling unit, including public and common use areas. This means that the manager of an apartment complex must allow an exception to a rule or policy if it would afford a disabled tenant an equal opportunity to use and enjoy an apartment at the complex. An accommodation that permits disabled tenants to experience the full benefit of tenancy must be made unless the accommodation imposes an undue financial or administrative burden on a housing provider or requires a fundamental alteration in the nature of its program.

With regard to a disabled tenant or disabled applicant’s reasonable accommodation request, the owner or manager of the apartment complex can request verification that the tenant or applicant is disabled and needs the requested accommodation due to his/her disability. However, if a person’s disability is obvious, or otherwise known to the owner or manager, and if the need for the requested accommodation is also readily apparent or known, then the owner or manager may not request any additional information about the person’s disability or the disability-related need for the accommodation. Furthermore, an owner or manager’s undue delay in responding to a disabled tenant’s reasonable accommodation request may be construed as a failure to provide the reasonable accommodation.

EXAMPLE# 1:
A blind person who utilizes a guide dog applies to rent a one bedroom unit at an apartment complex. The apartment complex has a “no pets” policy, but the blind applicant qualifies for the one bedroom unit. Without the guide dog, the blind person would not have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy an apartment at the complex. Therefore, the owner or manager of the apartment complex should make an exception to the “no pets” policy and allow the blind person to live in the apartment with the guide dog.

clipboard icon NOTE: The owner or manager of the apartment complex should also waive the “no pets” policy for a disabled applicant that has a different type of service animal or support animal. Service animal means any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching dropped items. A support animal means any animal that provides a therapeutic or psychological aid to a person, due to their disability.

Furthermore, the housing provider may not require the applicant to pay a fee or a security deposit as a condition of allowing the applicant to keep the service/support animal. However, if the applicant’s service/support animal causes damage to the applicant’s unit or the common areas of the dwelling, the housing provider may charge the tenant for the cost of repairing the damage (or deduct it from the standard security deposit imposed on all tenants), if it is the housing provider’s practice to assess tenants for any damage they cause to the premises.

EXAMPLE# 2:
A disabled tenant with a mobility impairment has difficulty walking more than short distances. The apartment complex where the disabled tenant lives has a “first come, first served” parking policy for its tenants. Therefore, in order to prevent problems getting from his car to his apartment, the tenant requests that management grant a reasonable accommodation in its parking policy and reserve a parking space for him near his apartment, due to his disability. This accommodation is necessary to afford the disabled tenant an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a unit at the complex. Therefore, the manager should grant the accommodation and reserve a parking space for the disabled tenant.

EXAMPLE# 3:
A tenant needs a live-in aide to help care for him. Thus, the tenant requests that management of the apartment complex reasonably accommodate him by allowing his live-in aid to move in to assist him with his daily activities. If the tenant is disabled and needs the live-in aide to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy his unit, then management should grant the accommodation.

EXAMPLE# 4:
A tenant who suffers from a mental disability receives an eviction notice for disturbing other residents and violating community rules. The disabled tenant requests that the manager reasonably accommodate her, due to her disability, by not proceeding with the proposed eviction action and allowing her time to get medical treatment and/or psychological counseling. The manager should grant the accommodation unless he/she can demonstrate that no reasonable accommodation will eliminate or acceptably minimize any risk the tenant poses to other residents.

clipboard icon NOTE: This means that the Fair Housing Act can serve as an affirmative defense in evictions against persons with mental disabilities, depending on the circumstances. In addition, even if the landlord does not know of the tenant’s disability on the date the notice to vacate is sent, or even when trial begins, a Fair Housing Act defense can be raised. The critical date by which the landlord must have knowledge of the tenant’s disability is the date the tenant is actually evicted.

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Reasonable Modifications

Under the Fair Housing Act, it is also unlawful for any housing provider to refuse to permit, at the expense of the disabled person, reasonable modifications of existing premises occupied or intended to be occupied by such person if such modifications may be necessary to afford such person full enjoyment of the premises of a dwelling. A “modification” is any structural change to the public or common-use areas of a building or any structural change to a dwelling unit.

clipboard icon NOTE: Although tenants are generally responsible for paying the costs of the modifications, this is not the case if the modifications should already be in place. Many apartment complexes that were built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, do not meet all of the accessibility requirements under the Fair Housing Act. If the apartment complex is not in compliance with the accessibility requirements, the owner of the complex should pay for the modifications that a tenant requests which the owner is already responsible to completing in order to bring the complex into compliance. Furthermore, if the tenant lives at an apartment complex that receives federal funding, the tenant can, in most cases, request that the owner of the apartment complex pay for the modifications, as an accommodation to the tenant.

In the case of a rental unit, the landlord may, where it is reasonable to do so, condition permission for a modification on the tenant agreeing to restore the interior of the premises to the condition that existed before the modification, reasonable wear and tear excepted. However, in general, if the modifications do not affect the landlord or subsequent renter’s use and enjoyment of the premises, the renter should not be required to restore the modifications to their prior state.

The landlord may not increase for disabled tenants any customarily required security deposit. However, the landlord may negotiate a restoration agreement with the tenant where it is necessary in order to ensure with reasonable certainty that funds will be available to pay for the restorations at the end of the tenancy. This restoration agreement would outline provisions requiring the tenant pay into an interest bearing escrow account (over a reasonable period of time) a reasonable amount of money not to exceed the cost of the restoration. The interest in any such account shall accrue to the benefit of the tenant. This means that landlords may not routinely require such escrow payments, but must instead make a case-by-case determination based on such factors as the extent and nature of the modification involved, the duration of the lease, and the credit and rental history of the individual tenant.

A landlord may condition permission for a modification on the tenant providing a reasonable description of the proposed modifications, as well as, reasonable assurances that the work will be done in a workmanlike manner and that any required building permits will be obtained.

EXAMPLE# 1:
An applicant for rental housing has a child who uses a wheelchair. The bathroom door in the dwelling unit is too narrow to permit the wheelchair to pass. The applicant asks the landlord for permission to widen the doorway at the applicant's own expense. It is unlawful for the landlord to refuse to permit the applicant to make the modification. Furthermore, the landlord may not, in usual circumstances, condition permission for the modification on the applicant paying for the doorway to be narrowed at the end of the lease because a wider doorway will not interfere with the landlord's or the next tenant's use and enjoyment of the premises.

EXAMPLE# 2:
A disabled tenant asks his landlord for permission to install grab bars in the bathroom at his own expense. It is necessary to reinforce the walls with blocking between studs in order to affix the grab bars. It is unlawful for the landlord to refuse to permit the tenant, at the tenant’s own expense, from making the modifications necessary to add the grab bars. However, the landlord may condition permission for the modification on the tenant agreeing to restore the bathroom to the condition that existed before the modification, reasonable wear and tear excepted. It would be reasonable for the landlord to require the tenant to remove the grab bars at the end of his tenancy. The landlord may also reasonably require that the wall to which the grab bars are to be attached be repaired and restored to its original condition, reasonable wear and tear excepted. However, it would be unreasonable for the landlord to require the tenant to remove the blocking, since the reinforced walls will not interfere in any way with the landlord’s or the next tenant’s use and enjoyment of the premises and may be needed by some future tenant.

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Seven Technical Accessibility Requirements

Regarding the design and construction of covered multi-family housing built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, discrimination includes a failure to design and construct the covered apartments so that they comply with the Fair Housing Act’s seven accessibility requirements:

  1. All covered multi-family dwellings must have at least one building entrance on an accessible route;
  2. The public and common-use portions of such dwellings are readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities;
  3. All the doors designed to allow passage into and within all premises within such dwellings are sufficiently wide to allow passage by an individual with a disability who uses a wheelchair;
  4. An accessible route into and through the dwelling unit;
  5. Light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats, and environmental controls in accessible locations;
  6. Reinforcements in bathroom walls to allow for later installation of grab bars;
  7. Usable kitchens and bathrooms such that an individual in a wheelchair can maneuver about the space.

If you want the Council to conduct a free review of your apartment to determine whether it meets the Fair Housing Act’s accessibility requirements or if you have any questions, please contact the Council at (210) 733-3247.

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Discrimination in Lending Transactions

Furthermore, the Fair Housing Act provides that in mortgage lending, it is unlawful for any person to take the following actions against a person because of his or her race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or handicap:

  • Refuse to make a mortgage loan
  • Fail or refuse to provide information regarding the availability of loans or other financial assistance, the application requirements, or the procedures/standards for the review and approval of loans or financial assistance
  • Provide information that is inaccurate or different from that provided others
  • Impose different terms or conditions on a loan
  • Discriminate in appraising property
  • Refuse to purchase a loan
  • Set different terms or conditions for purchasing a loan

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