Does "Christian Roommate" Decision Clarify Anything About Fair Housing Laws?

Real Estate Agent with Atlanta Communities Real Estate Brokerage GREC #208281

Rulings in lawsuits always are a good way to learn and get clarification on what a law actually means.

Unfortunately, some rulings just muddy the waters even more.

In Michigan, a young lady advertised on a church bullitin board for a female Christian roommate.  Someone saw it and filed a Fair Housing complaint about it.

Initially, this was the understanding:

Nancy Haynes is the Executive Director of the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan. Her organization's investigators looked into the issue after getting an anonymous call.

"For us it's pretty straight forward. It's just there's a discriminatory advertisement that states an illegal preference so it's a violation of 804-C. "

Haynes says Rowe can live with whoever she wants, but law '804-C' is about what you publish. The law says you can't print, publish, or advertise based on race, limitation, sex, or religion.

"In practice she could meet with this woman, could talk about different things and the person could decide in the end they don't make good roommates."

As for Rowe not being a landlord, Haynes says, the law applies for any housing transaction -- including roommates.

So was it all about it being published and not what the final result was?  Was being a landlord an important factor? 

The ruling just came out but unfortunately, I think it really doesn't clarify much at all.  There's no logical argument that one can use as a precedent for another case. They say that this was a Constitutional problem and that Constitutional law is the highest law of the land. Here are some of the things that went into the decision saying that it wasn't a violation.

"When it comes to a federal law, the individual's constitutional rights trump all," HUD spokeswoman Laura Feldman said. "That's the highest power."...

Maurice McGough, deputy regional director for fair housing and equal opportunity in HUD's Chicago office, said they were concerned about the individual's right to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of intimate association, among other issues.

The fact that it was a roommate situation and that the woman posted her ad in a church -- as opposed to a general circulation newspaper, for example -- came into play, HUD officials said.

"We looked at those general protections and, without trying to draw too fine of a distinction between them, we erred on the side of the Constitution," McGough said. "This is the federal government. We have to be (careful) about how we enforce our authority."

So can we use this ruling in order to decide what to do in similar situations? Unfortunately not.

"It's unique and specific to this case," Haynes said. "It's not that there is some new exception to the law."

Making it even more confusing, they are allowing for a possible civil case  to be brought within the next two years.

So I guess it's now crystal clear about advertising for a Christian roommate. NOT.

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About the Author:  Tim Maitski has been a full time Realtor since 1999. He has sold several hundreds of homes in areas around metro Atlanta.  Tim started with RE/MAX Greater Atlanta and is now with Atlanta Communities Real Estate Brokerage.


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