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Community Development Division
U.S. Dept of Justice Fair Housing
HUD Office of Fair Housing & Equality Opportunity
Housing Discrimination Tip Line
Call 1-800-896-7743
The goal of the City of Knoxville's Fair Housing Assistance Program is to assure decent and suitable living conditions for every citizen, and to prevent discrimination in the sale or rental of housing. In an effort to accomplish this goal, the City of Knoxville has adopted the Fair Housing Opportunities Ordinance, which prohibits discrimination in housing.

What is Discrimination in Housing?

"Housing" includes rental property, property for sale, and lending institutions for the purchase of housing. "Discrimination" includes unfair treatment towards a person or a family which is based upon their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or because they have children (familial status). These are the "protected classes" under the Knoxville Fair Housing Opportunities Ordinance.

These types of discrimination are prohibited by Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, as amended in 1988 (also known as the Fair Housing Act), and the Civil Rights Act of 1866.

Notes on the Protected Classes:

Sexual discrimination includes sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is defined as deliberate or repeated unsolicited verbal comments, gestures, or physical contact, that creates an offensive environment, or when sexual favors are sought in return for housing.

With regard to familial status, families are defined as having at least one child under the age of eighteen living with at least one parent or appointed guardian. It also includes pregnant women and those in the adoption process.

The Fair Housing Act defines "disability" (or handicap) as:

1.) a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of a person's major life activities,

2.) a record of having such an impairment, or

3.) being regarded as having such an impairment, but such term does not include current, illegal use of or addiction to a controlled substance.

What Housing is covered under the law?

Regardless of whether you are the owner, a manager, a broker, realtor, or company representative, you are responsible for carrying out effective fair housing practices under the law.

The dwellings covered are:

  • Apartments rented or leased
  • Houses sold or rented
  • Boarding and rooming house rentals
  • Mobile home parks
  • Condominiums
  • Vacant property to be developed for housing

    Other dwellings may include:

  • Homeless/safety shelters
  • Hotels and motels

    When Filing a Discrimination Form

  • Keep a record of any meetings and phone calls with the landlord, property manager, real estate agent, loan office, or insurance agent.
  • Write down what happened and what was said.
  • Save all receipts, applications, business cards, and other documents pertaining to your search for housing and housing related services.

    Information for Property Owners, Landlords, and Lenders

    1. Keep complete and accurate records:
    Even landlords who are committed to fair housing can find themselves facing a fair housing complaint. Accurate records are your best defense against any allegations of unfair housing practices.

    2. Consistently apply the rules to all tenants:
    It may be difficult to defend against complaints of discrimination if the manager or landlord has, in fact, applied rules more stringently to some tenants than to others.

    3. Retaliation is illegal:
    Never allow the filing of a fair housing complaint to influence your decision to take any adverse action against a tenant.

    4. Having an all-adult complex:
    Retirement housing and housing for seniors are still allowed, but must adhere to the guidelines imposed by the Fair Housing Act. It is illegal to exclude children as tenants unless the housing is specifically marketed as housing for older persons.

    5. Violation of familial status laws:
    Safety rules must be carefully developed to avoid conflict with laws prohibiting discrimination against families with children. A manager or landlord may unknowingly violate the law while attempting to implement safety rules.

    6. Accommodating Tenants with Disabilities:
    It is a violation of fair housing law to:
  • Refuse to rent because of a disability
  • Refuse reasonable structural modifications to improve access (at the tenant's expense)
  • Refuse to make reasonable policy exceptions

    7. Clearly convey your commitment to fair housing to your managers, rental agents, and tenants:
    Remind your managers and tenants of your commitment to fair housing. Display fair housing posters in prominent locations. Periodically distribute a statement of your commitment to fair housing to your tenants in community newsletters and bulletins.

    8. Train your managers:
    Laws change. Congress passes new laws and amendments. Court decisions add new meaning to existing laws. A manager or leasing agent may inadvertently break the law by not realizing the law had changed. Have your rental staff attend a training class or seminar in fair housing at least once per year.

    9. Communicate with your tenants:
    "Effective communication skills" may be an overused phrase these days, but it is invaluable in landlord/tenant relations. Clearly convey, and patiently explain to your tenants any decisions or actions you take that may have a negative impact on their housing situation.

    Discrimination Scenarios

    Learn to recognize housing discrimination. Remember that discrimination is rarely blatantly obvious. It can be disguised and is often accompanied by a handshake and a smile. Be suspicious when you see and hear situations like these:

    Signs of Discrimination based on race or color

  • You visit a complex about the "For Rent" sign. The manager tells you it has already been rented, but days later the "for rent" sign is still up.
  • The manager or property owner tells you, "I am sure you would feel more at home in another neighborhood."
  • "Do you think that you can afford this neighborhood?"

    Signs of Discrimination based on families with children

  • Having rules specifically for children, as opposed to tenants.
  • "Children are only allowed in the basement and first floor units."
  • "We rent to families with children, but we need an extra security deposit."

    Signs of Discrimination against persons with disabilities
  • Asking, "Are you sure you can live by yourself?"
  • "We have a no pets rule and that includes your guide dog."
  • Refusing to allow reasonable physical modifications to a unit.

    Signs of Discrimination based on sex
  • "A single woman? How are you going to take care of the yard?"
  • "There's a long waiting list for these apartments, but I can get you in if you're really nice to me."
  • "Don't worry about the security deposit - we'll make other arrangements."

    Signs of Discrimination based on religion
  • "I prefer to rent to people who are referred to me through my church."
  • The manager asks you about your religion or your beliefs during the application process.

    Signs of Discrimination based on national origin
  • "I need to see your green card before I can show you the apartment."
  • "I can't rent to you because I can't understand you."

    Brief Look at the Complaint Process

    The allegations of the complainant that discrimination has occurred is enough to cause the filing of the complaint. There is no burden of proof at this stage. After receiving the complaint, the Investigator or Intake Specialist verifies that the person or group filing the complaint has standing. In order to have standing, a person or group must: claim to have been injured by a discriminatory housing practice; or believe that they will be injured to by a discriminatory housing practice that is about to occur. The Investigator or Intake Specialist also determines whether the Community Development office has jurisdiction to investigate the complaint.

    When a complaint is accepted the Investigator gathers facts from the Complainant and the person/business that allegedly violated the housing discrimination laws. The Investigator makes a determination based upon these facts. When the Investigator determines that discrimination did not occur, the case is closed and the Complainant is informed of options. If the Investigator determines that discrimination occurred, a hearing is held that may result in a judgment in favor of the Complainant. This judgment can be appealed.

    What Can I Do If I Have Been Discriminated Against?

    The City of Knoxville's Community Development office maintains staff to provide housing services including the investigation of complaints of illegal housing discrimination. This office is located on the 5th floor of the City-County Building at 400 Main Street.

    If you feel you have been the victim of illegal housing discrimination, please contact the office at (865) 215-2120. It is not necessary to be a current resident of Knoxville. The alleged discriminatory act must have occurred within the Knoxville city limits within the last year. Also, the property in question must be residential and the complaint must be based on one of the protected classes (race, color, religion, national origin, gender, familial status, or disability).

    The Knoxville Community Development office handles complaints against individuals and businesses within the city limits. If the alleged discriminatory act did not occur within the Knoxville city limits, please contact the Tennessee Human Rights Commission (THRC) at 865-594-6500 or 1-800-325-9664. THRC investigates housing discrimination in the surrounding cities and across the state of Tennessee.

    The City of Knoxville hosts an annual Fair Housing conference. This conference is typically in April. Contact the Community Development office at 865-215-2120, if you are interested in attending.
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