The Fair Housing Act
The Civil Rights Act of 1968, better known as the Fair Housing Act 1 (FHA), was enacted to protect people from being treated differently in housing situations. An amendment was passed in 1989 which expanded the scope of the original piece of legislation.
(42 U.S.C. § 3601 et al. See also the Utah Fair Housing Act at Utah Code Ann. § 57-21-1 et al. The federal protected classes are race, color, sex, national origin, familial status, religion, and disability. Utah law also prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and source of income.)
The FHA prohibits:
- discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, and disabilities.
- government entities from making zoning or land-use decisions that discriminate against people with disabilities.
Although the term “group home” is not specifically defined by the FHA, it generally refers to a structured housing program occupied by unrelated people with disabilities in a community. Most group homes are subject to state regulations and licensing provisions.
Not In My Backyard (NIMBY)
Local opposition to community housing for people with disabilities is sometimes called “NIMBY-ism,” which stands for “not in my backyard.” This reflects an attitude where community members do not want a group home located in their neighborhood. NIMBY attitudes are a major barrier to housing for many people with disabilities. Under the FHA, it is illegal for a government entity to make policies or decisions that treat a group of people with disabilities differently than a group of people without disabilities. It is also unlawful to deny a land use permit for a group home based on the types of disabilities of the people who live, or will live, at the group home. This protection also applies to covenants.
The FHA requires that government entities make reasonable accommodations in land use and zoning policies/procedures if the accommodation is necessary to give people with disabilities an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their housing. Therefore, even though a zoning ordinance imposes the same restrictions on group homes as it imposes on other groups of unrelated people, the government entity may be required to grant a reasonable accommodation to a group home for people with disabilities. Not all accommodations are considered reasonable. “Reasonableness” is determined on a case-by-case basis. However, if a requested accommodation imposes an undue financial or administrative burden on a government entity, or if the accommodation creates a fundamental alteration in the land use and zoning scheme, it may not be considered reasonable. These exclusions are rarely upheld.