Ask Lambda Legal – Protections Are Limited for Access To Housing

Q:  I just got married to my same-sex spouse.  We are in the process of looking for housing, either to rent or buy, and are worried that we may face discrimination as a same-sex couple. What are my rights?
A: The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is the only federal law that prohibits discrimination in most private and public housing on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, disability and familial status. However, if you and your spouse apply for an apartment and the landlord denies your application specifically claiming they do not rent to gay couples, there is no legal recourse under the FHA. You and your spouse would have to rely on local non-discrimination laws, if any, to ensure that your rights are protected.

If you are looking for government-assisted housing, such as public housing, or are applying for rental assistance (voucher) programs that receive federal funds, or are seeking a federally insured home mortgage, be aware that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently updated its policy with a new anti-discrimination rule. The rule, titled “Equal Access to Housing in HUD Programs — Regardless of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity,” requires owners and operators of federally funded housing programs to make housing available without regard to sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.  

Lambda Legal recently resolved a dispute between New York resident Regina Hawkins-Balducci and the management company and building owner of her rent-stabilized apartment. Hawkins-Balducci had been a resident of the apartment since 1998 and had been living there with her partner since 2005. They married in January 2012, and soon after, Hawkins-Balducci submitted an application to have her wife added to the lease. The management company refused, insulting the couple by telling Hawkins-Balducci that she did not have the right to add her wife to the lease, and saying the company would not accept their marriage certificate. Lambda Legal sent the management company a letter in June 2012, outlining that this refusal to add Hawkins-Balducci’s spouse to the lease was a direct violation of the New York Marriage Equality Act, New York Rent Stabilization Code and several provisions of New York State and City human rights laws. The following month, the management company agreed to comply with New York law, and added both partners to the lease. You can read about the case here: http://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/cases/in-re-balducci

Access to affordable housing is extremely important for LGBT families, who face disproportional occurrences of poverty. According the Movement Advancement Project (www.lgbtmap.org), children being raised by same-sex couples are twice as likely to live in poverty as children being raised by married heterosexual couples. Same-sex couples of color raising children are more likely to be poor than white same-sex couples raising children.

If you have any questions, or feel you have been discriminated against because of your sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status, contact Lambda Legal’s Help Desk at 866-542-8336, or see http://lambdalegal.org/help

Natalie Chin is a staff attorney for Lambda Legal, the national organization that works to secure full civil rights for LGBT people.

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