|FAIR HOUSING PROGRAM
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
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)
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
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
Vacant property to be developed for housing
Other dwellings may include:
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.
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
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
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
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.