Saturday, May 28, 2016

Proactive Indiana Civil Rights Officials Use Trained Fair Housing Testers Posing As Renters, Homebuyers In Statewide Hunt To Bag Discriminating Landlords, Home Sellers, Etc.

In South Bend, Indiana, the South Bend Tribune reports:
  • South Bend's Mar-Main Apartments has dropped its "cats-only" pet rule and, from now on, will allow tenants with disabilities, upon request, to have a companion and/or service animal. The change comes in response to a recent test case resolved in late March by the Indiana Civil Rights Commission.

    The complex, at 125 W. Marion St. near downtown South Bend, was the subject of an audit in August 2014. That test, and follow-up work, resulted in the commission filing a complaint last May.

    The complaint was withdrawn March 29 after a settlement agreement was reached through confidential mediation.

    In the complaint, it was alleged that a Mar-Main leasing staffer told a disabled rental applicant (a trained tester) with a companion dog that Mar-Main is a “cats-only” building — which the commission said amounts to refusal to make a reasonable accommodation to an applicant who represented himself to have a disability as defined by law.

    Did this fictional scenario amount to entrapment?

    No, the U.S. Supreme Court said in a 1982 ruling. That ruling deemed fair-housing testing to be a legitimate means of enforcing housing laws.(1)

    In fact, federal and state housing agencies often use testers who’ve successfully completed HUD-approved training to detect differential treatment or outright discrimination in the housing rental and sales markets. In many cases, the testers are volunteers or part-timers working for a local third-party, nonprofit fair housing center.

    In settling its case, Mar-Main agreed to do several things in addition to allowing companion and/or service animals, including having staff complete a commission-approved diversity training seminar.

    Unlike many states in the nation, Indiana’s civil rights officials are using this testing tool statewide to detect problems before they occur and are not waiting for complaints to be filed by those who experience or witness housing discrimination.

    “Fair-housing testing is extremely important in seeing where a community’s housing market barometer is in terms of discrimination. Some people don't file complaints because they don't realize discrimination has occurred, they're embarrassed or just don't know where to go,” said Barbara Malone, deputy director of the Indiana Civil Rights Commission, a state agency with enforcement powers in the legal areas of fair education, employment, public accommodations and housing practices.

    The Civil Rights Commission has its fair-housing audits done by a third-party vendor, whose testers are trained per guidelines of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The commission still takes complaints from those who experienced or witnessed discrimination.