The COVID-19 pandemic has made lasting impacts on every area of life, including housing. Ensure your fair housing rights are being upheld during these unprecedented times.
Ripple effects from the coronavirus pandemic have touched virtually every aspect of the world as we know it – from education and jobs to day-to-day activities, vacation plans, and living accommodations – no stone seems to be left unturned in at least some way by the virus. The vast economic fallout that we’ve seen play out globally throughout the course of the past year has financially strained households within all economic classes and categories, and as is often the case, the most vulnerable populations have been negatively impacted the most and many have faced uncertain circumstances around necessities like housing, healthcare, and education. Thankfully, we’ve also seen new legislation and government assistance put in place with the goal of supporting our communities through these times of unprecedented vulnerability.
In response to the pandemic, the Central Alabama Fair Housing Center (CAFHC) is working to better understand and address any fair housing impacts of this public health emergency on our community members – especially as situations and circumstances continue to evolve on a daily basis. In recognition of this crisis, we’d like to remind renters and homeowners of their rights as they pertain to housing during this time, as well as some of the resources available to them which address some of the most relevant fair housing concerns.
Rises in Eviction
The CARES Act prohibits landlords from evicting renters living in federally assisted housing or properties financed by federally-backed mortgages and has been extended through at least March 31, 2021. The Act currently covers roughly one in four rental units. The opportunity to extend the forbearance applies to borrowers who have reached the end of the 12 months of forbearance allowed by the CARES Act and whose COVID-19 related financial hardship has not been resolved. The term of the initial forbearance and any extension may be shortened at the borrower’s request.
In addition, many states and municipalities have issued additional protections for renters who are not able to make full rental payments due to layoffs, pay cuts or furloughs as a result of the pandemic. If you find yourself facing eviction you may be protected. If you believe you are facing unlawful eviction or may have experienced discrimination in housing, you can contact the Equal Rights Center. To report your experience, please call 202-234-3062 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The National Fair Housing Alliance has set up a resource page in which homeowners suffering financial hardship as a result of the pandemic can apply for mortgage assistance through the CARES Act. The homeowners mortgage assistance applies to all mortgages insured or owned by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Veterans Administration, Rural Housing, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac. Borrowers with private mortgages may also be able to get assistance from their mortgage companies.
In addition to mortgage assistance, the NFHA has also created a “Take Action” page in support of the HEROES Act where renters and homeowners can contact members of Congress to ensure lawmakers have adequate resources to protect renters and homeowners during the pandemic. There is also a page to submit personal stories and experiences to lawmakers if you believe you are experiencing any fair housing issues related to COVID-19.
Fair housing organizations across the nation have documented an alarming increase in sexual harassment complaints related to housing issues since the beginning of the pandemic. Allegedly, according to documents, some landlords have attempted to pressure tenants struggling to afford rent into sex-for-rent schemes or other unsavory ‘deals’. Others have solicited sex in exchange for making repairs.
Sexual harassment of any kind is prohibited by the Fair Housing Act, as is retaliating against someone for reporting it. If you believe you or someone you know is facing unlawful discrimination of any kind, there is help available. You can find a variety of resources and outlets at the CAFHC website and know that there is protection available.
Uptick in Racial Discrimination
Stereotypes about the coronavirus have led to an uptick in verbal and physical attacks against certain ethnic groups and races, especially Asian Americans, and even more so in recent times. It’s quite possible that this can also result in a rise in unlawful, racially fueled housing discrimination.
Among other aspects, the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination of housing availability on the basis of race, color and/or national origin. Prohibited activities include (but are not limited to) harassment, terminating a lease, making housing available and refusing to rent to someone based on any one or more of the aforementioned traits. As previously mentioned, if you believe you or someone you know is facing unlawful discrimination of any kind, there is help available. You can find a variety of resources and outlets at the CAFHC website and know that there is protection available.
With many things like common areas and amenities within complexes and communities still closed at this time, it’s important for leasing staff to remember that the federal Fair Housing Act continues to apply and that everyone should be accommodated for – including those with disabilities.
Leasing staffs should be capable and able to make accommodations as necessary to avoid claims of discrimination against protected classes. For example, virtual tours of apartment complexes should be able to accommodate blind or visually impaired visitors, and leasing staff should be able to work with prospective residents with disabilities to further accommodate any additional needs they may have during difficult times when the full extent of a property or community might not be fully accessible due to limitations caused by the coronavirus or extra safety measures put in place. No individual should be limited or restricted due to visual or physical disabilities of any sort.
We’re Here to Help
If you have any questions or concerns about fair housing protection, or believe you have experienced discrimination in housing, know that there is help and support available. Fair housing is a civil right protected by federal and state fair housing laws. All U.S. residents have the right to equal treatment free of discrimination when renting or buying a home, applying for homeowner’s insurance or mortgages, or in any other housing-related services.
When violations of the Fair Housing Act occur, available remedies can include monetary damages and court orders compelling defendants to change policies and practices. Visit the CAFHC website today for information, legal guidance, resources, printable information and materials, and more.