Through peaceful protest, Dr. King, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, sought equality and human rights for African Americans, the economically disadvantaged and all victims of injustice. Watershed events including the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the 1963 March on Washington helped bring about landmark legislation including the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.
First brought before Congress in 1966 as a response to the many instances of racial discrimination in both buying and renting houses, The Fair Housing Act was often overlooked in the following two years, failing to garner enough support for it to pass. On April 11, 1968, seven days after Dr. King’s assassination, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which still today protects people from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, disability, family status, and national origin when they are renting or buying a home, getting a mortgage, seeking housing assistance, or engaging in other housing-related activities.
During Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ‘s thirteen years as leader of the American Civil Rights Movement, the U.S. made more genuine progress toward racial equality than the previous 350 years combined. And while we may be a long way from reaching Dr. King’s vision, the Fair Housing Act remains the linchpin of the fight for equitable housing.
When I was a child growing up in Washington, DC, I was fortunate to hear Dr. King speak at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, although I was perhaps too young to understand the words that momentous day. Following Dr. King’s assassination, I heard my father speak passionately at Quaker meeting where we worshipped, about what Kings’ short but remarkable life and legacy meant to each and every one of us.
In June 2020, expanded Fair Housing laws within New York State were enacted, including new disclosure regulations and the audio-video recording of Fair Housing continuing education. “Federal, State and Local Fair Housing Laws protect individuals from housing discrimination. It is unlawful to discriminate based on certain protected characteristics, which include, but are not limited to: race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, military status, sex, age, disability, marital status, lawful source of income or familial status.”
The following are some examples of potential Fair Housing Violations:
- Refusing to rent, sell or show a property based on a potential tenant or purchaser’s protected characteristic.
- Quoting a higher price to a purchaser or renter because of the potential purchaser or tenant’s protected characteristic.
- Refusing to rent to a tenant who has children or increasing a security deposit based on the number of children who will be living in the apartment.
- Steering prospective tenants or purchasers to certain neighborhoods based on any protected characteristics.
- Refusing to rent to a potential tenant because of their source of income, including but not limited to, Section 8 vouchers or other government subsidies.
- Refusing to waive a “no pet” policy for tenants that require a service, assistance or emotional support animal.
- Discriminating at the direction of a seller or landlord or because it is the preference of a seller or landlord.
- Refusing to rent to a renter who is a victim of domestic violence.
The words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. resonate perfectly at this moment in time, when we are in the midst of a pandemic and are all challenged to be our best selves: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.”