OPED: Housing regulations protect from discrimination

Kenneth Woethwein
York Human Relations Commission/York County Advisory Council

April was recognized as National Fair Housing Month. It is a time when we come together as a community and a nation to celebrate the passing of the Fair Housing Act.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, which was enacted in the aftermath of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination in 1968, with the focus to eliminate housing discrimination and create equal opportunity in every community.

Federal, state and local agencies and community organizations across the country recognize the importance of fair housing for everyone and work to promote a better understanding of housing discrimination.

In Pennsylvania, fair housing is enforced by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC), under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA). The Act prohibits discrimination in renting, selling or purchasing a home or to withhold any house accommodation or commercial property based on race, color, age (40 or over), religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, sex, familial status or use of guide or support/service animal for a disability. It is also unlawful to offer different terms and conditions to members of the above protected classes.

More:EDITORIAL: HUD rental hikes: As rich get richer, the poor pay

York  has a local York Human Relations Commission (HRC), which can help you at the local level.

Having the right to live where you choose is not a new concept. Protecting yourself from housing discrimination starts with knowing what the signs of discrimination look like. The following “red flags” can help you understand if you are a victim of housing discrimination:

  • Saying a home is rented or sold when it is still available because the landlord or seller does not want to rent/sell to someone of the applicant’s race.
  • Setting different terms and conditions for sale or rental of a property because of a person having a disability.
  • Charging a fee for a service or a support animal.
  • Refusing to rent or sell to an individual based on their national origin.
  • Refusing to rent to families with children under the age of 18.
  • Refusing a request from a tenant for closer parking because of the tenant’s disability.
  • Denying a tenant’s maintenance request because of his/her age.
  • Not providing the same services to an individual who filed a discrimination complaint in retaliation for that complaint.
  • Denying a loan request based on factors such as sex.

It is also unlawful to print or circulate statements indicating a preference or limitation   such as:

  • Near a Catholic School
  • Perfect for empty-nesters
  • Great for singles

Today, social media is being used more and more for advertising of housing rentals and sales. Sadly, many individuals and landlords are not aware of the requirements of the law. When housing opportunities are posted on social media, these postings must adhere to the law.

Additionally, in May 2013, the PHRC was instrumental along with the Department of Justice (DOJ), in notifying African-American and Hispanic borrowers in Philadelphia who took out Wells Fargo home loans from 2009-2014 that were eligible for a predatory lending settlement. These borrowers were steered by Wells Fargo toward sub-prime mortgages while white and non-Hispanic borrowers with similar credit histories were given prime-rate mortgages.

The DOJ ordered Wells Fargo to pay $3.2 million to borrowers in multiple states, including Pennsylvania, to those individuals and families who experienced discrimination.

Education is the best tool in the prevention of housing discrimination. York Advisory Council, HRC and PHRC are available to provide training and outreach to communities, organizations and businesses on housing discrimination and fair lending practices.

More:OPED: Five decades after Fair Housing Act, segregation continues

If you or someone you know is experiencing housing discrimination, call the York HRC at 717-846-2926 or PA Fair Housing Hotline toll free at 855-866-5718 or visit the PHRC’s website at www.phrc.pa.gov.

The York HRC and PHRC are here to protect the civil rights of all Pennsylvanians. Remember you have the right to live wherever you and your family want to live.

— Kenneth Woerthwein is a commissioner and member of the York Human Relations Commission and York County Advisory Council.