Fair housing watchdog HUD has issued a guidance paper for landlords to prevent discrimination against non-English speaking rental applicants and tenants.
The Department has taken the position that while what it has dubbed “limited English proficiency” or “LEP” is not a protected class per se, those who do not speak, write or read English proficiently often come from outside the U.S., and therefore they are protected under the national origin and race classifications of the Fair Housing Act. Tenant screening and leasing policy decisions that unfairly impact those not proficient in English are discriminatory.
HUD estimates that 25 million people — 9 percent of the population — fall within the LEP category.
That breaks down as follows:
Spanish-speaking, approximately 16,350,000, or 65 percent of the LEP population;
Chinese, 1,660,000 (7 percent);
Vietnamese, 850,000 (3 percent);
Korean, 620,000 (2 percent);
Tagalog, 530,000 (2 percent):and,
Russian, 410,000 (2%).
Speaking with an accent also may be considered limited English proficiency.
Examples of intentional housing discrimination based on English language proficiency may include rental ads that restrict applicants to “English only”, testing an applicant’s proficiency, rejecting any applicant or refusing to renew a lease because the individual is not fluent in English, and making disparaging remarks or allowing other tenants to do so. Also, discriminating against select LEP individuals and not others may be viewed as intentional discrimination.
Even where a landlord does not intend to discriminate, language-related tenant screening or leasing policies that unfairly impact LEP individuals also may violate the Fair Housing Act. This “disparate impact” may be proven using statistical data, including census records. It could be difficult to defend a policy of avoiding LEP applicants or tenants because communication between landlords and tenants is less frequent than many other routine interactions, and it’s relatively easy to find multilingual staff or interpreters.
It also is illegal to target LEP communities for unfair practices, such as advertising vacancies with the intent of charging higher rent.
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.