I received a fair housing complaint the other day, and it surprised me because of its interesting use of gender discrimination. The complaint alleged that the resident was being discriminated against by the landlord because he identified as a transgender male. I wondered if this person was even protected under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) because of his identification, so I decided to do a little research.
It appears as if the vast majority of courts have yet to hear cases concerning this issue–however, one federal judge in Colorado recently held that the FHA protects all LGBT individuals, including those who identify as transgender individuals (see Order).
As you are probably aware, the FHA prohibits discrimination based on national origin, familial status, and sex, but does not specifically mention sexual orientation or gender identification. Since the FHA does not address this issue, the Colorado court reviewed employment cases and statutes to give guidance. In these employment cases, the court held that sex stereotyping is a prohibited form of discrimination. The Colorado judge in that case held that discrimination based on gender identity is akin to discrimination based on sex stereotyping; therefore, this type of discrimination is prohibited under the FHA. The court concluded that gender identification is included in the FHA’s prohibition of discrimination based upon “sex.”
While this is the opinion of just one judge in Colorado, I am confident this will be the national trend. The FHA is intended to be broad to protect all individuals from being discriminated against for any number of personal characteristics that are completely unrelated from their ability to be a good tenant. Courts will (and should) continue to interpret the FHA in this manner. As always, encourage your employees in the leasing office to be courteous and respectful to all individuals, and to treat everyone fairly and equally. Not only will this avoid unnecessary FHA complaints, but will promote a positive reputation for your company and help improve societal relationships on an even greater scale than your leasing office.