Real Estate Equal Housing Opportunity Many condominiums and housing developments have homeowners associations (HOA) that set rules and regulations. HOAs must obey federal laws that protect certain groups from housing discrimination.

To avoid legal liability, members of an HOA board of directors need to know and observe these laws. Individuals who belong to a protected group and want to buy or rent a home in a covenant-protected development should also know their rights.

HOAs Have Certain Powers

An HOA may be a corporation. It may also be an unincorporated or nonprofit organization. A legal document, known as a declaration of covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&R), often spells out a development's rules and regulations. CC&R policies list the responsibilities of all homeowners in the development and often place a wide range of restrictions on the development's individual properties. Restrictions may range from rules about the appearance of housing units to rules banning certain activities.

Federal Law Prohibits Housing Discrimination

The Fair Housing Act prohibits anyone from refusing to sell or rent housing to a possible buyer or tenant based on that person's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. This act also prohibits housing discrimination based on family status. A seller or landlord cannot refuse to sell or rent to a buyer or renter who is a parent or guardian of a person under the age of 18.

An HOA's regulations often give the board of directors the right to approve new buyers or renters. Because an HOA must follow the rules of the Fair Housing Act, an HOA board cannot reject a new resident based on the person's race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or familial status.

Elderly Housing Is an Exception

The Fair Housing Act provides an exception to its familiar status protections if the development's intent is to provide housing for older people. To qualify for this exception, the development must meet certain conditions. All current residents, for example, must be age 62 or older.

HOAs Cannot Discriminate Against Disabled People

CC&Rs often restrict changes to the exterior of a residence. However, the Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for an HOA to forbid reasonable changes to the home of a disabled individual. For example, HOA rules cannot prohibit an owner who uses a wheelchair from installing a ramp to enter the home.

A Lawyer Can Help

The law related to covenant-controlled developments and housing discrimination can be complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a real estate or civil rights lawyer.

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