MHCO Article: Illegal Immigration and Fair Housing Liability

Illegal immigration is a touchy and politically charged subject. It’s also an issue that many landlords in America need to address on a daily basis. There are approximately 11.5 million undocumented aliens living in this country, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. Because the vast majority of these people don’t own a home, they must look to the rental market for their housing. So, landlords need to be aware of the legal implications of leasing to them.

The Pros & Cons of Leasing to Undocumented Aliens

Because they constitute a major part of the rental market in some parts of the country, categorically refusing to rent to undocumented aliens or even asking about immigration status may impair your rental business. It may also expose you to risk of liability under fair housing laws. This is especially true if the aversion is based on stereotypes about immigrants. Landlords may shy away from leasing to undocumented aliens based on stereotypes about their being unlikely to work hard and pay rent diligently.  

On the other hand, in some states and municipalities, you can get into trouble if you do knowingly lease to undocumented aliens. You may also encounter difficulties if you do seek to hold such tenants legally accountable when rental or other disputes arise. “An undocumented alien has a much greater chance of being judgment-proof,” a Maryland attorney explains. “The landlord’s toolbox for collecting a judgment is neutered since there’s no bank account or legal job generating paychecks to garnish.” And if the state or municipality makes it illegal to rent to undocumented aliens, the landlord will want to avoid going to court in an eviction situation.  

While there are no easy or absolute answers, the legal principles that landlords must understand to navigate this dilemma. Specifically,  the fair housing implications of leasing—and not leasing—to undocumented aliens and non-U.S. citizens. 


Are you ready for the New Reality of Senior Housing?

Ask anyone who works on a Senior Living Community how they like their job and I can almost guarantee that they will tell you they have a love-hate relationship with it. Most employees will tell you that they love working with seniors; that they are a nice group of people, and they have a bond with them that they have never experienced while working on a multi-family community.  They will also tell you of the heartaches and troubles of a senior community; and this is not just the obvious complications of dealing with an aging resident population. You will hear about the vast disparity between “the new senior” and “the elderly,” the trends seniors are setting, the financial issues many seniors are facing, the troubling issue of increasing mental illness in seniors, and the demands seniors are making on staff. How does all this affect not only the senior market, but how will it affect the market at large? How do we stay on top of trends, and how do we assist the employees in this highly specialized market segment? 


Legal Case #3: Duty to Make Reasonable Accommodations Doesn’t Require New Service Offerings

The basic rule is that landlords must make reasonable accommodations to the point of undue hardship. Most resonable accommodations cases were decided on the basis of reasonableness, including an Arizona case posing the question of whether it’s reasonable to expect a landlord to introduce a whole new service or activity for a tenant with disabilities.

Legal Case #2: OK to Request Information About a Disability to Verify Need for Accommodation

Nearly half of the cases this year address a landlord’s FHA duty to make reasonable accommodations. In most of these cases, the requested accommodation was purportedly necessary to afford a person with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling and public and common use areas. These cases offer insight into how far the duty to accommodate goes, including a key case out of Kentucky that sheds light on a landlord’s right to verify the requestor’s disability and need for the accommodation.

    Legal Cases From 2021 & What You Need to Know - Tenant on Tenant Harassment

    We’re all pretty familiar with what the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) says. The real challenge is figuring out what it actually means, as in real life. If you use Fair Housing Coach, it’s a good bet that you’re among the vast majority of landlords who are committed to principles of fair housing and try hard to comply with the rules. The problem is that those rules can be vague, confusing, and even contradictory. The only sure way to find out if you’re meeting all of the requirements is to get sued for discrimination and submit to the judgment of the investigator, court, or fair housing tribunal. Of course, that’s hardly a practical strategy; in fact, the whole point of compliance is to avoid getting embroiled in investigation and litigation in the first place.  

    Luckily, there’s a better approach. Look at the actual cases involving other landlords and draw the appropriate lessons. Knowing what landlords did right and wrong enables you to make informed judgments about and improve the effectiveness of your own compliance efforts. Regrettably, you may not have the time or legal training to track down and analyze the cases—or the budget to hire an attorney to do it. The good news is that we did the heavy lifting for you. This month’s lesson breaks down the key FHA rulings from 2021, explaining not just who won and who lost, but why and what practical compliance lessons you can take from the case.

    Q&A:  Did the landlord’s Request for Disability Information Go Too Far?


    In a recent case, a tenant claimed she needed an emotional support animal for a mental disability and asked the homeowners association board for an exemption from the community’s no-pet policy. Since the tenant’s disability isn’t readily apparent, the landlord asked her for verification. She provided a medical note listing her diagnosis. Although the disease is an officially recognized illness, the board wanted more information about the disability and how it affects her “major life activities.” When she refused to provide the information, the landlord moved to evict her.

    Did the landlord’s request for more information about the disability go too far?


      Avoiding Inadvertent Discrimination When Advertising Your Community

      In today’s highly competitive rental market, effective advertising is crucial to attracting the right renters. But for these very same reasons, your advertising and marketing practices can get you into fair housing hot water. The advertising media you select and the message you craft may be illegally exclusive. While it can be direct and intentional—No children … Christian community … Not suitable for the disabled (which, regrettably, come from actual ads)—discriminatory advertising can also be far more subtle, so much so that it’s easy to cross the line without intending to.

      This month’s lesson will help you keep your advertising and marketing practices within the bounds of fair housing laws. First, we’ll explain the fair housing advertising laws. Then, we’ll outline a strategy that will work for any landlord, whether its marketing consists of simple lawn signs, digital ads on social media websites, or anything in between. 


      Arizona Owner Fails to Fulfill Reasonable Accommodation Involving Notices


      HUD recently announced that it has approved a Conciliation/Voluntary Compliance Agreementbetween the Housing Authority of Maricopa County, in Mesa, Ariz., and one of its residents who has a mental health disability. Under the agreement, the housing authority will pay $10,000 to the tenant and provide fair housing training for its employees who work with the public. The housing authority will also vacate the tenant’s eviction and waive the $3,516 eviction judgment that had been entered against her.

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