REALTORS® recognize the significance of the Fair Housing Act and reconfirm their commitment to upholding fair housing law as well as their commitment to offering equal professional service to all in their search for real property. Equal and free access to residential housing is a fundamental to meeting essential needs and pursuing personal, educational, employment, or other goals. The Reading-Berks Association of REALTORS® is committed to upholding Fair Housing Law and educating local officials on the importance of following the Fair Housing Act when making decisions about land use and zoning.
In addition to supporting existing Fair Housing protections against discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, national origin, and familial status, the REALTORS® Code of Ethics prohibits discrimination in housing based on sexual orientation and gender identity. However, there are no federal laws that prohibit discrimination against the LGBT community.
Nationwide, LGBT youth face more than twice the homelessness risk of others in their age group. Many experience discrimination that restricts access to stable and decent housing. These cracks in the foundation for LGBT people impedes their economic well-being, their opportunities for education, and their mental and physical health.
The Reading-Berks Association of REALTORS®, in partnership with our state and national associations, SUPPORTS efforts at any level of government to extend Fair Housing protections to LGBT individuals to ensure that the American dream of homeownership is not unfairly denied on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Of particular concern are those that serve members of the protected classes, such as those with physical or mental disabilities. Many of these individuals may choose to live with other unrelated persons with disabilities in a housing arrangement commonly referred to as a group home. These arrangements are essential to their quality of life, and may or may not also require in-home support services of varying types.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, and persons with disabilities have the same Fair Housing Act protections whether or not their housing is considered a group home. Persons with disabilities who live in or seek to live in group homes are sometimes subjected to unlawful discrimination in a number of ways, including through restrictive municipal zoning and permitting processes. For example, a municipality might pass an ordinance prohibiting group homes in single family neighborhoods or prohibiting group homes for persons with certain disabilities. These ordinances are facially discriminatory, in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
According to a 2014-2018 Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing study conducted by the County of Berks and the City of Reading, several Berks zoning ordinances were found to be in violation of the Fair Housing Act as they relate to group homes.
- In seven of the ordinances which were reviewed, group homes are neither mentioned nor regulated.
- In only one ordinance, group homes are explicitly permitted wherever single-family detached homes are permitted.
- Four of the ordinances placed exceptionally restrictive conditions on the siting of group homes in their municipalities. These included:
- Dispersal requirements ranging from 750-1,000 linear feet from another similar facility within the municipality.
- The need for the building to appear as if it is a traditional single-family home.
- Extra off-street parking requirements for residents and staff ranging from one space per employee to one space for each employee and resident.
- Limiting the maximum number of residents.
The Reading-Berks Association of REALTORS® SUPPORTS efforts to bring municipal ordinances into compliance with the Federal Fair Housing Act. A household where two or more persons with disabilities choose to live together, as a matter of association, may not be subjected to requirements or conditions that are not imposed on households consisting of persons without disabilities.
Crime-Free Rental Ordinances
Crime-Free Rental Ordinances (sometimes called Nuisance Ordinances) are local laws that either encourage or require private landlords to evict or exclude tenants who have had varying levels of contact with the criminal legal system. Such contact can include when police are called too many times to a property within a certain time period. Others mandate housing providers to include lease provisions that require or permit housing providers to evict tenants where a tenant or resident has allegedly engaged in a single incident of criminal activity, regardless of whether the activity occurred on or off the property.
While these ordinances are intended to improve the quality of life in the neighborhood, they can affect housing in potentially discriminatory ways. In some jurisdictions, an incident of domestic violence is defined as a nuisance without regard to whether the resident is the victim or the perpetrator of domestic violence. Victims of domestic violence often are reluctant to seek assistance because of, among other things, fear of reprisal from their attackers. Nuisance ordinances are becoming an additional factor that operates to discourage victims from reporting domestic violence and obtaining the emergency assistance they need.
For example, a woman in Norristown, Pennsylvania who had been subjected to domestic violence by her ex-boyfriend was warned by police that if she made one more 911 call, she and her young daughter would be evicted from their home pursuant to the local nuisance ordinance. The ordinance operated under a “three strike” policy, allowing her no more than two calls to 911 for help. As a result, the woman was too afraid to call the police when her ex-boyfriend returned to her home and stabbed her. Rather than call for an ambulance, she ran out of her house in the hope she would not lose her housing. A neighbor called the police and, due to the serious nature of her injuries, the woman was airlifted to the hospital. A few days after she returned home from the hospital, she was served with eviction papers pursuant to the local nuisance ordinance.
The Reading-Berks Association of REALTORS® advises municipalities to be extremely cautious when considering Crime Free Rental Ordinances. If a local government insists on enacting such ordinances, they should carefully consult with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and closely follow HUD’s Guidance on Nuisance Ordinances. Such ordinances should include, at a minimum:
- robust protections for crime victims, including victims of domestic abuse;
- robust protections for anyone who has not been convicted of a crime, even if they have been arrested; and
- exceptions for when illegal activities are committed by persons other than the resident.