National Fair Housing Month is recognized each year in April as a time to celebrate the anniversary of the passing of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The passage of the Fair Housing Act outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin when selling or renting housing. Since the original law, sex, disability, and familial status have been added as protected classes. The 1968 law was the culmination of a civil rights campaign against discrimination in the housing market, and was passed one week after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

National Fair Housing Month is a celebration, but also calls on us to continue to be vigilant against al forms of housing discrimination. There is still no federal legislation that protects LGBT people from being discriminated against in housing markets. Only 21 states (plus the District of Columbia) protect against housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, with only 18 (plus the District of Columbia) protecting on the basis of gender identity. Pennsylvania does not protect against housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

A 2014 study from the Equal Rights Center investigated how older same-sex couples were treated when trying to rent of purchase housing. Nearly half (48%) of the couples in their study faced some sort of discriminatory treatment, such as being quoted higher costs, offered less availability, requiring higher deposits, and given stricter application requirements.

Many older people who move into residential care facilities feel a sense of hopelessness as they adjust to a new way of living. Those who identify as LGBT may also face discriminatory treatment from staff or other residents. In a recent column from SAGE addressing an LGBT discrimination case in a long-term care facility in Illinois, SAGE states, “No one should have to worry about something as basic as being yourself in your own space—especially as you age. The ability to enjoy a home, live as your authentic self, and feel comfortable and safe is something that matters to all of us. Equal housing opportunity is a basic right that should be available to everyone.”

It is important to be aware of the rights that do exist and how to advocate for these rights. A home should be a place of safety, comfort, and free of discrimination. For this reason, the Equal Rights Center offers some self-advocacy tips for LGBT older adults: 

  • Understand your legal rights—The more you know about your rights and responsibilities as a tenant or home buyer, the more easily you can spot potential problems early, identify rules that apply and use those rules as tools to resolve those issues.
  • Identify the Problem—Clearly identify how you are being treated differently from others in your e ort to secure housing, and why you think you are being treated differently.
  • Take notes and keep all documentation—In order to assist with the identification of the issue, you may want to make a written description on of the events that took place and retain copies of any policies or documentation on from the housing provider. If you have email correspondence with the housing provider, you should save these messages as well.
  • Be persistent—If you do not hear back from the person who you originally contacted about the housing, try following up with a phone call. If the housing provider continues to refuse to speak to you, then you may eventually have to involve a third party such as the ERC. Keeping a log of your contacts with the housing provider, including your attempts at contact where the housing provider did not respond, is very helpful. 
  • Know when it is time to get outside assistance– If you cannot reach a satisfactory resolution with a housing provider, call one of the organizations listed at the end of this toolkit, and they can advise you on possible next steps.

More information is available from the following links:

https://www.sageusa.org/files/SAGEHousingStrtgy_Brief_web.pdf

https://equalrightscenter.org/wp-content/uploads/lgbt-senior-toolkit.pdf

https://www.lambdalegal.org/blog/housing-rights-of-seniors