While federal and state fair housing law does not ban discrimination based on military or veteran status, many state and local governments do. However, disabled veterans are protected (as is any disabled person) under federal fair housing law.
Issues to Consider Relating to Veterans & Members of the Military
- Know your
applicable state and local laws: eight
states currently have fair housing protection based on military status, but the
specific protections vary from state-to-state. For example, New York prohibits
discrimination based on military status, but Massachusetts prohibits
discrimination specifically against veterans. In some states, such as Illinois,
protection for veterans is tied to the nature of a discharge. The Illinois law
prohibits discrimination against veterans with a less than honorable discharge
but excludes those with a dishonorable discharge. However, Washington state law
protects only veterans with an honorable discharge. Rhode Island protects
current service members and veterans with honorable or general discharges.
While most states offer no military or veteran protection, some localities do.
As example is Texas, where there is no state protection, but San Antonio does
provide fair housing protection for veterans. The following states currently
have fair housing protection based on military or veteran status:
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
(California is considering such protection).
- A high percentage of veterans have disabilities: 29% of recent veterans report a service-connected disability, vs 13% of all veterans. One of the more common disabilities among veterans is Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), TBI is a major focus of the Veterans Administration (VA).
- PTSD is a
common vet-related disability: “Holland
v The Related Companies, July 2015,” is a California case that dealt
specifically with PTSD.
- Facts of
- Resident was an Army combat veteran with PTSD;
- As the result of noise from ongoing construction, the vet requested a transfer to a unit away from the noise. The vet said the noise triggered nightmares, anxiety, etc., because it reminded him of gunfire, explosions, and screaming, making him feel as if he was in a war zone;
- The community agreed on the need for the transfer but did not agree on payment of current rent for a more expensive unit. They agreed to move the family to the better unit at current rent but wanted them to move back to their original unit when construction was finished; and
- The resident refused, asking for a court order allowing them to stay until the end of the lease (five months).
- Decision: the court granted the request.
- The cost of moving the family to the more expensive unit was a reasonable accommodation that would not cause an unreasonable financial burden to the property, and the increased cost of allowing them to stay to the end of the lease was minimal.
- Facts of the Case:
- The need for assistance animals among vets is common: Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) for vets with PTSD are common.
- There are
laws in addition to fair housing laws that protect military and veterans:
Civil Relief Act (SCRA) – this was formerly the “Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil
Relief Act,” and it protects active duty military. It covers
- Rental agreements;
- Security deposits;
- Prepaid rent;
- Installment contracts;
- Credit card interest rates;
- Mortgage interest rates;
- Mortgage foreclosure;
- Civil judicial proceedings;
- Auto leases;
- Life insurance;
- Health insurance; and
- Income tax payments
- Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) – this was formerly the “Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act,” and it protects active duty military. It covers
Under certain circumstances, servicemembers may terminate – Without penalty – leases. Communities may not evict military members or their dependents during active military service without a court order. Of all the protections for the military, the SCRA is the most important. A recent example shows how aggressively courts will enforce the SCRA:
- In March 2019, a Virginia-based property management company paid $1.5 million for violation of the SCRA. This is the largest settlement under the Act. The facts of the case are:From 2006 – 2017, the company obtained 152 default judgments against 127 servicemembers by failing to disclose their military status to the court or by falsely stating that the tenants were not in the military.The company imposed unlawful charges against servicemembers who tried to terminate leases early in order to comply with military orders.
Another important law related to servicemembers is “The Uniformed Services Employment & Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA).” This law ensures that servicemembers are entitled to return to their civilian employment upon completion of military service and was designed to protect members of the National Guard and Reserve who are called to active duty. These servicemembers should be reinstated with the seniority, status, and rate of pay that they would have obtained had they remained continuously employed by their civilian employer.
If your community is subject to state or local laws barring discrimination based on military or veteran status, you need to discuss with your local counsel exactly what protections are offered by the specific laws.
Also, while the Fair Housing Act bans discrimination against veterans with disabilities, the law does not protect an individual with a disability whose tenancy would constitute a “direct threat” to a property or the health and safety of other residents or staff. However, before taking adverse action against a disabled resident, management should determine whether there are any reasonable accommodations that would eliminate or significantly reduce the threat.