We are wrapping up our discussion of both federal and state fair housing laws. The Fair Housing Act bars discrimination in all housing-related transactions, including renting, leasing and lending. In our last couple of posts, we have reviewed who is protected by the Act as well as what discrimination in housing looks like.
The objective of the law is not to end discrimination in housing, but to end unlawful discrimination in housing. There are cases where discrimination may be tolerated, even if it does not always make sense.
For example, religious organizations are exempt from the law, but a Catholic seminary may offer free lodging to visiting Catholic priests or friars. That said, a faith-based organization that accepts federal funding may not refuse services to a member of a protected class.
Private clubs may limit housing to members, even if they cannot refuse to admit members based on race. Housing specifically designated as senior housing may be exempt from accommodating families or people younger than 55 or 62. And, some single-family sales and rentals are exempt, as are “owner-occupied dwellings designed for occupancy by no more than four families living independently of each other.”
In Pennsylvania, the rules are a little different. The last rule above, the owner-occupied four-plex rule, is not included in state law. Rather, our fair housing laws do not apply to personal residences, or
a building or structure containing living quarters occupied or intended to be occupied by no more than two individuals, two groups or two families living independently of each other and used by the owner or lessee thereof as a bona fide residence for himself and any members of his family forming his household.
Landlords of duplexes, then, are not prohibited from denying housing to a member of a protected class, or from charging families more than they would charge single occupants.
Finally, Pennsylvania’s fair housing laws also cover commercial real estate transactions. Again, discrimination is prohibited in the sale, purchase or leasing of commercial space. Neither the owner nor a tenant of a commercial property may deny access to a member of a protected class.
If you are on either side of a discriminatory housing or commercial property transaction, you should consider consulting an attorney.