Fair Housing Law in Georgia Prohibits Discrimination in Housing

Authored By: Georgia Legal Services Program® LSC Funded


Fair Housing Laws in Georgia Prohibit Discrimination in Housing

Susan Reif
Georgia Legal Services Program
Last Revised: December 2003

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing because of: Race or color, National origin, Religion, Sex , Familial status (including children under the age of 18 living with parents or legal custodians; pregnant women and people securing custody of children under 18), and Handicap (Disability). Discrimination can take many forms. It can be as direct as a refusal to rent because the applicant is a person of color, disabled, of a certain religion, from another country or because the person has children. Discrimination can also be indirect. For example, the apartment complex rule may not appear to be discriminatory on its face but it may be applied in such a way that a protected group suffers more harshly from the rule. If the owner does not have a legitimate business reason for the rule, it may be found discriminatory.

Clear examples of discriminatory conduct include:

· refusing to rent to a person because of their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status or disability;

· landlords or rental agents who, while not directly refusing to rent, engage in conduct which discourages or makes unavailable housing. This includes failing to inform an applicant of a protected class of the availability of privileges, services or facilities associated with the complex. Also, conduct which discourages members of a protected class from applying for housing directly or by failing to inform applicants who are members of a protected class of the availability of marketing promotions or rent reductions.

· landlords who impose different terms and conditions on those who are members of a protected group;

· landlords or property managers who steer tenants of a protected class to particular buildings or units;

· advertisements which excludes from the rental opportunity members of a protected group;

· stating that a unit is not available for rental when it is available.

Do Fair Housing Laws Apply to all Landlords?

The fair housing laws cover activities related to the sale, rental, or advertising of residential housing. Owners of rental property are exempt from the fair housing laws provided that the following conditions are met:

· Any advertising which the owner does for the rental property must not be discriminatory;

· The owner does not own or have any interest in more than three single-family houses at any one time;

· The owner does not use a real estate broker, agent, or salesperson in renting the dwelling; or

· The owner occupies one of the units in a building intended to be occupied by not more than four families.

In general, a landlord, who owns more than three rental units, uses a real estate broker or agent to rent the units, or advertises the units, must follow the fair housing laws.

Additional Protection If You Have a Disability

Georgia Fair Housing Law requires that persons with disabilities be given reasonable accommodations in regard to rules, policies, practices or services. A tenant or applicant must request that the landlord make the accommodations and may be requested to provide a doctor's statement indicating that the accommodation is necessary. A disability is a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities. This protected class includes those who have a disability, have a history of having a disability, and those who are regarded as having a disability.

It is prohibited, as discriminatory, for a landlord to refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a person with a disability the equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. Examples of reasonable accommodations include a landlord's waiving of a no pet rule for a tenant who needs to use an animal assistant and reserving parking places close to accessible apartments for mobility impaired tenants.

If you or someone associated with you:

· Have a physical or mental disability (including hearing, mobility and visual impairments, chronic alcoholism, chronic mental illness, AIDS, AIDS Related Complex and mental retardation) that substantially limits one or more major life activities

· Have a record of such a disability or

· Are regarded as having such a disability

A landlord must allow a disabled tenant to make, at the tenant's expense, reasonable modifications or changes to his or her unit that are necessary to afford the disabled person full enjoyment of the premises. A tenant may be required to restore the premises to their original condition upon vacating the unit if reasonable. The landlord must also permit reasonable modifications to common areas, such as a pool, to make the area accessible or usable. In most cases it would be unreasonable for the landlord to require the tenant to return the common areas to their original condition. If you are disabled, your landlord may not:

· Refuse to let you make reasonable modifications to your dwelling or common use areas, at your expense, if necessary for the disabled person to use the housing. (Where reasonable, the landlord may permit changes only if you agree to restore the property to its original condition when you move.)

· Refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services if necessary for the disabled person to use the housing. However, housing need not be made available to a person who is a direct threat to the health or safety of others or who currently uses illegal drugs.

Example: A building with a "no pets" policy must allow a visually impaired tenant to keep a guide dog.

Example: An apartment complex that offers tenants ample, unassigned parking must honor a request from a mobility-impaired tenant for a reserved space near her apartment if necessary to assure that she can have access to her apartment.

Housing Opportunities For Families

Unless a building or community qualifies as housing for older persons, it may not discriminate based on familial status. That is, it may not discriminate against families in which one or more children under 18 live with:

· A parent

· A person who has legal custody of the child or children or

· The designee of the parent or legal custodian, with the parent or custodian's written permission.

Familial status protection also applies to pregnant women and anyone securing legal custody of a child under 18. Often families are prevented from renting housing because the landlord limits the number of persons who can live in the unit, this is called a occupancy standard. Local ordinances and safety codes may determine occupancy standards. You should check with the local government to determine if there is a local occupancy standard. The landlord can impose occupancy requirements but they must be reasonable, based on factors such as the number and size of bedrooms and the overall size of the unit. For example, setting a limit of two persons per bedroom would likely be considered reasonable, but requiring each child to have their own bedroom could be considered discriminatory.

Housing for older persons is exempt from the prohibition against familial status discrimination if:

* HUD has determined that the rental complex is specifically designed for and occupied by elderly persons under a Federal, State or local government program or

* It is occupied solely by persons who are 62 or older or

* It houses at least one person who is 55 or older in at least 80 percent of the occupied units, and adheres to a policy that demonstrates an intent to house persons who are 55 or older.

Special Rules for New Construction

Newly constructed multifamily dwellings with four or more units must provide basic accessibility to persons with disabilities if the buildings were ready for first occupancy after March 13, 1991. In buildings that are ready for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, and have an elevator and four or more units:

· Public and common areas must be accessible to persons with disabilities

· Doors and hallways must be wide enough for wheelchairs

· All units must have:

· An accessible route into and through the unit

· Accessible light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other environmental controls

· Reinforced bathroom walls to allow later installation of grab bars and

· Kitchens and bathrooms that can be used by people in wheelchairs.

If a building with four or more units has no elevator and will be ready for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, these standards apply to ground floor units. These requirements for new buildings do not replace any more stringent standards in State or local law.

How to File a Complaint

If you think a landlord has discriminated against you, you can file a complaint under either the Federal Fair Housing Law or the State Fair Housing Law. You may also wish to talk with an attorney. To file a complaint under federal law, you should contact the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD has a toll-free number which you can call for fair housing questions and complaints. You can also receive copies of the Fair Housing Act and other publications through the Housing and Discrimination Hotline. That number is (800) 669-9777. TDD number (800) 927-9275. Or, you can write to:

Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, 4E

U. S. Department of HUD

Five Points Plaza

40 Marietta Street, 16th Floor

Atlanta, Georgia 30303-2806

To file a complaint under state law, or for information on State Fair Housing Law, you should contact the Fair Housing Division of the Commission on Equal Opportunity. That office can be reached at (404) 656-7708 or 1-800-473-OPEN. Or, you can write to:

Commission on Equal Opportunity

Fair Housing Division

710 International Tower - Peachtree Center

229 Peachtree Street, NE

Atlanta, Georgia 30303

(404) 656-1736

1 (800) 473-OPEN

What Happens After You file a Complaint?

The agency investigating your complaint will try to reach an agreement with the person your complaint is against. If such an agreement can be reached a conciliation agreement will be signed which must protect both you and the public. If an agreement is signed, HUD will take no further action on your complaint. However, if HUD has reasonable cause to believe that a conciliation agreement is breached, HUD will recommend that the Attorney General file suit. If a conciliation agreement is not reached. The agency will continue investigating your complaint and if there is reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred, it will inform you. Your case will be heard in an administrative hearing within 120 days, unless you or the respondent want the case to be heard in Federal district court. Either way, there is no cost to you.

The Administrative Hearing:

If your case goes to an administrative hearing HUD attorneys will litigate the case on your behalf. You may intervene in the case and be represented by your own attorney if you wish. An Administrative Law Judge (ALA) will consider evidence from you and the respondent. If the ALA decides that discrimination occurred, the respondent can be ordered:

· To compensate you for actual damages, including humiliation, pain and suffering.

· To provide injunctive or other equitable relief, for example, to make the housing available to you.

· To pay the Federal Government a civil penalty to vindicate the public interest. The maximum penalties are $10,000 for a first violation and $50,000 for a third violation within seven years.

· To pay reasonable attorney's fees and costs.

Federal District Court

If you or the respondent choose to have your case decided in Federal District Court, the Attorney General will file a suit and litigate it on your behalf. Like the ALA, the District Court can order relief, and award actual damages, attorney's fees and costs

Susan Reif
Georgia Legal Services Program
Last Revised: December 2003

Last Review and Update: Nov 25, 2003