WASHINGTON, DC–The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) charges that owners and management companies of major housing complexes in six states are discriminating against people who are deaf or hard of hearing. NFHA announced on January 9 that it had filed eight complaints with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) against companies in Arkansas, California, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas. Between them, the eight companies accused manage more than 715 apartment complexes with more than 174,000 units.
The complaints, which allege a practice of discrimination against deaf and hard-of-hearing people seeking to rent apartments, are based on the findings of a year-long investigation by NFHA, which is a consortium of more than 200 private, non-profit fair housing organizations, state and local civil rights agencies, and individuals. These findings are reported in detail in the publication “Are You Listening Now? A National Investigation Uncovers Housing Discrimination Against the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.”
The investigators conducted “matched-pair testing” in which one hearing tester and one deaf or hard-of-hearing tester, who were equally qualified financially and seeking the same size apartment with similar move-in dates, inquired about availability from the same apartment complex via telephone. The complaints allege that the apartment complex owners and management companies refused to offer housing to the deaf and hard of hearing or charged them higher prices and provided them with inferior information and services.
Shanna L. Smith, president and CEO of the alliance, said, “The findings of NFHA’s investigation are a major cause for concern. The fact that some apartment owners refuse to even consider renting to deaf persons is appalling and it is illegal. Enforcement changes behavior and NFHA intends to use the full force of the Fair Housing Act to open up housing choice for deaf and hard of hearing persons.”
WHAT THE INVESTIGATORS FOUND
During their investigation, NFHA and its members conducted 304 tests of 117 apartment complex owners and management companies in 98 cities in 25 states. Of the 117 companies tested, about a quarter treated deaf callers differently from hearing callers in a manner that to the testers appeared to violate the Fair Housing Act.
Investigators conducted additional testing of those companies they felt had acted in a discriminatory manner during the first round of testing. Of those tested for a second time:
- 40% hung up on deaf callers at least once;
- 86% gave more information to hearing persons about available apartments and the apartment complex than to deaf callers;
- 56% described additional financial qualifications and background checks to deaf or hard-of-hearing callers, including criminal background checks, prior evictions policies, or credit checks.
In its report, NFHA spelled out specific finding that led to its complaints against the eight companies.
For example, in Atlanta, the testers reported that a rental agent for Alliance Management initially hung up on the deaf tester upon finding out the tester was deaf. The deaf tester was instructed to call back and then the agent gave very little information about apartment availability. In contrast, the agent spoke to the hearing tester immediately and provided substantial information about availability of apartments.
In an apartment complex in Sacramento owned by JCM Partners, LLC, the rental agent reportedly told the deaf tester that she had no two-bedroom units available, while the hearing tester (who called immediately after the deaf tester) was told that there were two two-bedroom units available.
A rental agent for Bell Partners, which has buildings in Savannah, GA, and Austin, TX, reportedly initially hung up on the deaf tester upon learning she was deaf. Each time the deaf tester called back, she was sent to voice mail. The hearing tester called the same agent and spoke to her right away and was provided information about rentals.
Similar findings led NFHA to bring complaints to HUD about RCP Management in Little Rock, AR; Pinnacle Housing in Long Beach, MS; Berkshire Property Advisors, LLC, in Charleston, SC, and Atlanta; VTT Management in North Charleston, SC; and Landmark Apartment Trust of America in Lexington, SC.
In addition to its written report, NFHA is having a series of 12 videos produced in American Sign Language (ASL) with English captioning. They provide legal and practical information related to fair housing and fair lending rights under the federal Fair Housing Act.