FAQ’s About Fair Housing




Familial Status

Predatory Lending



I heard that not all types of housing are covered by the Fair Housing Act. Is this true?

The Fair Housing Act covers most housing except owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, single-family housing sold or rented without the use of a broker, and housing operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members.

However, in New York State owner-occupied TWO unit properties are exempt as opposed to four. And in all cases race is always covered by the law in spite of the type of dwelling. Discriminatory advertising applies to single-family and owner-occupied housing that is otherwise exempt from the Fair Housing Act.


Who is disabled?

According to the Fair Housing Act, a disability is defined as “a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities.”

What is a reasonable accommodation?

A reasonable accommodation is a change in a landlord’s rules, policies, or services that are necessary in order for the disabled person to have equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.

What is a modification?

A modification is a physical change to the existing apartment occupied, or to be occupied, by a disabled person. A modification is allowed when it is necessary to afford the person full enjoyment of the property. When renting an apartment, the landlord may reasonably condition the modification on the renter agreeing to restore the apartment to the condition before the modification was made, reasonable wear and tear expected.

What is the difference between a reasonable accommodation and a modification?

The difference between a reasonable accommodation and a modification is subtle but important. A reasonable accommodation is when the landlord makes a necessary exception to the rules, such as allowing a service animal in a “no pets” apartment. A modification is a physical change to the interior of a dwelling needed to have full use of the dwelling, such as installing tub handles for easier access.

Who pays for reasonable accommodations or modifications?

If you live in public or subsidized housing, the landlord is reasonable for paying the costs of any accommodation or modification. If you live in private housing, the tenant is responsible for the cost of any accommodation or modification.

How do I request a reasonable accommodation or modification?

Put in writing to your landlord that you need a reasonable accommodation or modification because of your disability. You need not include any further information in the letter such as diagnosis or medications.

How much documentation must I provide to my landlord when requesting an accommodation or modification?

You need only supply a letter from a health care professional. The health care professional need not be a medical doctor, but can include a therapist or social worker. Again, you do not have to disclose your diagnosis or any medication you may take. The accommodation requested must, however, relate directly to your disability.

What should I do if my landlord refuses to make a reasonable accommodation?

If your landlord refuses to make a reasonable accommodation or modification after you have submitted your letter to him, or if you need help writing the letter, call CNY Fair Housing at (315) 471-0420.

I have a “no pets” policy but was told that I have to make exceptions for service animals. What’s the difference between a pet and a service animal?

A service animal is not a pet. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires you to modify your “no pets” policy and make an exception to your general rule for service animals. The ADA defines a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government or not.

Do I have to pay extra security deposit for my service animal?

No. The landlord may not charge any extra security deposit or extra monthly charges for keeping a service animal in the apartment.

I have a disability which impedes my ability to walk distances. The parking lot for my building is on a first-come-first-served basis and my landlord will not consider adding reserved or handicapped accessible parking spaces closer to the front door. What can I do?

The Fair Housing Act requires landlords to make reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities. Reserving a parking spot or creating a handicap parking spot is such an accommodation. If the landlord will not honor your request contact the Fair Housing Council and we can assist you.

Do I have to have liability insurance for my wheelchair?

No. A landlord cannot require you to have liability insurance because you require the assistance of a wheelchair.

Familial Status

What is familial status?

Under the Fair Housing Act, a family consists of parent(s) or legal guardian(s) who have children under the age of 18 living with them, and also includes pregnant women or anyone seeking the legal custody of a child less than 18 years of age.

Can a landlord make rules about how children should behave?

Reasonable rules are appropriate, but not everyone agrees with what is “reasonable”. Some general guidelines are: Rules should apply to all tenants, not just children. Rules that set limits may be reasonable if they are based on realistic health and safety concerns. Rules should address behavior, not status and should not be so restrictive that families with children do not get equal use and benefit of the housing.

Can a landlord decide which units are better for families with children?

No. Designating specific units for families with children is called “steering” and is illegal. Landlords should give applicants objective information about what is available and let applicants decide what unit is suitable for their household.

Can a landlord set limits on the number of occupants?

Restrictive occupancy limits have the effect of discriminating against families with children. Begin with the guideline that any such limits should not be more restrictive than two persons per bedroom, and then consider the size and configuration of rooms and total livable space. Two persons per bedroom may be unreasonably restrictive depending on all the circumstances viewed as a whole.

Can a landlord charge a higher security deposit because I have kids who may cause more wear and tear in the apartment?

No. It is illegal to discriminate against families in which one or more children under 18 including pregnant women unless a building or community qualifies as housing for older persons, that includes charging higher or rent or deposits for families with children.

Predatory Lending

What is predatory lending?

Predatory lending practices, broadly defined, are the fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair tactics some people use to dupe us into mortgage loans that we can’t afford. Burdened with high mortgage debts, the victims of predatory lending can’t spare the money to keep their houses in good repair. They strain just to keep up their mortgage payments and at times succumb to foreclosure.

How can I avoid becoming a victim of predatory lending?

There are a number of ways to avoid predatory lending practices including:

• Not signing anything until you have read it thoroughly and if there are errors or if it’s not what you agreed to, don’t sign.
• If you’re confused about something don’t be afraid to ask questions.
• Call as many banks as you can to find the right loan.
• Avoid pre-payment penalties.

For more information on how to protect yourself from becoming a victim visit the Department of Justice website at: http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/pae/Documents/PredatoryLending.htm

What information is important when talking with a loan officer or mortgage broker?

If you are working with a mortgage broker, how much are they being compensated.

Unless the rate is at least 1.5% lower than what you are currently paying, refinancing is probably not in your best interest.

Do not consolidate unsecured debt like credit cards, tax liens, hospitals or other debt like car loans into your home.  It unnecessarily increases your chances of default and foreclosure.

Avoid balloon payments and adjustable rate mortgages if you are going to be in the house for more than 3-5 years.

Do not purchase any single premium credit insurance of any kind.  There are mortgage insurance companies that offer the same insurance with a monthly premium instead of a lump sum at closing.

Is there any prepayment penalty?

Avoid mandatory arbitration agreements. Do not sign away your right to a court hearing or jury trial.

Within three days of application, the lender or broker is required by Federal Law to give you a Good Faith Estimate.

At least 24 hours before the closing of the loan, the lender or broker is required to give you a Truth-In-Lending Disclosure or TILA.