Housing Conference Lays Foundation For Understanding

September 18, 1991|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff writer

Can a landlord refuse to rent to a person with AIDS? Who pays if a schizophrenic tenant requires bars on the windows?

These questions and more were answered Monday at the Fair Housing Conference 1991 at the Comfort Inn in Westminster.

"Local builders and developers know about the law, and they want to comply with it," said Karen Blanford, supervisor of Westminster's Office of Housing, Community Development and Personnel. "They're justhaving a hard time getting ahold of the guidelines."

Fair housingadvocates, bankers and landlords from across the state gathered to learn how the 1988 additions to the Fair Housing Act and the parallel state law that took effect July 1 would affect their business.

State and federal officials also showed how unfair housing practices affect the entire community.

"People who are discriminated against act out in rage," said Jennifer Burdick, executive director of the Maryland Commission on Human Relations. "It hurts all of us as taxpayers when people steal, when people mug, when people do not contribute to society."

The newer federal regulations, in effect since June 1989, enable the Department of Housing and Urban Development to impose fines and prosecute violators. In addition, tenants may claim discrimination based on disabilities or being a family with children.

"Prior to this act, HUD was only minimally concerned with civil rights," said Merle Morrow, attorney adviser to the General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity in HUD. "The enforcement capability was not there, and with lack of means you have lack of motivation."

Under the regulations, a landlord or seller cannot discriminate against people with actual, perceived or past disabilities. Disabilities include drug abuse and physical or mental handicaps.

Reasonable accommodations, such as wheelchair ramps for entrances or lobbies, must be made for common areas in rental properties and paid for by the landlord. Changes to the housing unit are paid for by the tenant, unless the building is federally subsidized.

"The definition is whether the disability impairs a life function," said Barry C. Anderson, director of the office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity for HUD.

Violators are fined $10,000 for a first offense, $25,000 for a second offense and $50,000 for subsequent offenses. Landlords would also have to pay real and compensatory damages.

Blanford said the Carroll County Housing Coalition feels the largest form of discrimination in the county is against families with children.

"That's partly because its a new feature of the law, and people don't know they can't do that anymore," she said. "That's why its important that we keep on doing as much publicity and education as possible."

County residents who feel they have been discriminated against can go directly to HUD, the Maryland Commission on Human Relations or the Carroll County Human Relations Commission for help, Blanford said.

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