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Fair Housing Act Applies to LGBT Too, Says Court

In what is being viewed as a major victory for the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recently ruled that landlords could be held liable for discrimination if they failed to respond to harassment faced by tenants who belong to a protected class.

In its ruling, the three-member panel of judges said that not only did the Fair Housing Act create liability when a landlord intentionally discriminated against a tenant based on a protected characteristic, but “it also creates liability against a landlord that has actual notice of tenant‐on‐tenant harassment based on a protected status, yet chooses not to take any reasonable steps within its control to stop that harassment.”

The panel was hearing the case of  Marsha Wetzel, who had filed a lawsuit under the Fair Housing Act against the retirement home she lived in. In her lawsuit, Wetzel had alleged that when she complained to the retirement home's administration about the homophobic slurs and attacks on her at the home, the administration didn't make any meaningful attempts to stop these and instead retaliated against her.

A lower court had dismissed her case earlier, but the recent ruling overturned the court's decision and held that the retirement home could be held accountable for failing to protect Wetzel from the harassment, discrimination, and violence at the hands of the other residents because of her sexual orientation.

“This is a tremendous victory for Marsha," Karen Loewy, Senior Counsel at Lambda Legal which had filed the lawsuit on Wetzel's behalf. "She, just like all people living in rental housing, whether LGBT or not, should be assured that they will at least be safe from discriminatory harassment in their own homes. What happened to Marsha was illegal and unconscionable, and the Court has now put all landlords on notice that they have an obligation to take action to stop known harassment.”

Fair Housing protections for the LGBT community have been the focus of industry discussions recently. In June, Fannie Mae hosted a roundtable fostering a discussion of initiatives and legislation promoting diversity and equality within the housing industry for LGBT individuals. As part of this discussion Derek Templeton, Executive Director of the American Mortgage Diversity Council's (AMDC) gave an update on the series of four  LGBT Town Hall events—in Dallas, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles—hosted by AMDC.

These town halls were designed to bring together servicers and local LGBT community groups for a day of discussion regarding issues affecting the LGBT community, from perspectives of both homeownership and workplace inclusion. The AMDC Town Halls will culminate in the creation of a white paper report that will be circulated to thought leaders across the country, including mortgage industry leaders, housing policy experts, and participating LGBT organizations.

About Author: Radhika Ojha

Radhika Ojha is an independent writer and copy-editor, and a reporter for DS News. She is a graduate of the University of Pune, India, where she received her B.A. in Commerce with a concentration in Accounting and Marketing and an M.A. in Mass Communication. Upon completion of her masters degree, Ojha worked at a national English daily publication in India (The Indian Express) where she was a staff writer in the cultural and arts features section. Ojha, also worked as Principal Correspondent at HT Media Ltd and at Honeywell as an executive in corporate communications. She and her husband currently reside in Houston, Texas.

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