Liam’s Amazing Housing Discrimination Journey


Liam was in a bad housing situation. He was living in public housing, where he faced discrimination, harassment, bedbugs, poor maintenance, safety issues, and other problems. Liam decided to stand up and advocate for himself. He went through a HUD complaint process. It worked! Liam has now been awarded a voucher, so he can move out and live in a home he loves.

Liam was kind enough to share this story to help others, along with sharing some great tips about how you can use the complaint process to help yourself:

My Housing Discrimination Journey

by Liam

Did you know that in low-income housing (and most other rental situations) that you are protected as a tenant from a hostile environment, harassment, and discrimination? Did you also know that if you experience issues where you rent that you can file a legal formal complaint of discrimination? You can and it can help you get yourself someplace better! If you live in a HUD-funded property, you have even stronger protections. I will be discussing that because I live in a low-income housing tax credit property that is HUD funded.

You might be wondering about the Fair Housing Act, who is covered under it, and what kinds of things are considered discrimination and illegal in the place you rent—and not just under HUD.

“The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. The Fair Housing Act covers most housing. In very limited circumstances, the Act exempts owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, single-family houses sold or rented by the owner without the use of an agent, and housing operated by religious organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members.”

(https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/fair_housing_act_overview)

The HUD website gives a great overview of the Fair Housing Act, who it covers, and the types of things that are considered discrimination. If you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community, you are protected under the “Equal Access Rule”. Your state may have additional protections and they are listed on the website below. “HUD’s Equal Access Rule requires equal access to HUD programs without regard to a person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. Housing providers that receive HUD funding or have HUD-insured loans are subject to the Rules. A person who identifies as LGBTQ who has experienced (or is about to experience) discrimination by a HUD-funded or FHA-insured housing provider or lender may report it to HUD by either filing a complaint or by contacting a local FHEO office.”

https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/housing_discrimination_and_persons_identifying_lgbtq

Discrimination occurs in so many ways and affects people differently. People may hear awful comments from their landlord or other tenants about their race or ethnicity and it can be brushed by those people as “just joking”. That is discrimination! There might also be a culture of discrimination in the building, the management, their staff, the other tenants, and it happen in so many ways. People may face discrimination if they are trying to rent from a place, but they are not meeting accessibility requirements and refuse to accommodate. Here’s a list of examples from HUD of different types of discrimination: 

https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/examples_housing_discrimination

“One’s home is a place of privacy, security, and refuge (or should be), and harassment that occurs in or around one’s home can be far more intrusive, violative and threatening than harassment in the more public environment of one’s workplace.” 81 Fed. Reg. at 63,055. 

This addition to the Fair Housing Act in 2016 and covers another type of discrimination—a hostile environment. This change was made to protect people who are harassed by other tenants, their visitors, or non-residents. While I had many issues in the building I live in, my discrimination complaint that included a hostile environment and my rights under the “Equal Access Rules” as an LGBTQ+ person is what helped me get a solution.

My housing journey

In February 2020, my life was uprooted from surviving domestic violence, my rare disease flaring and needing treatment, and being homeless—all during a pandemic. I received help from social services organizations and finally got accepted into a low-income housing building.

I moved into the building in July 2020. My first night in the apartment I had nothing—just a backpack of a few toiletries and a notebook. I started seeing bed bugs my first night here and the same in the common areas and laundry room.

I faced a lot of harassment as soon as I moved in about my sexual orientation, gender identity, and my disabilities from other tenants (my wheelchair has LGBTQ+ pride stickers). Other tenants started screaming slurs at me, making attempts at physical attacks, people sat outside and yelling at me every time I entered or left the building, cornered me in the laundry room and screamed at me for “faking” my disabilities because of my weight, and much more. I reported every incident in writing (via email) to the property manager and the occupancy specialist. They took no action but to apologize to me for my negative experiences living here.

There are many other issues here: bedbugs, lack of maintenance, disrepair to the whole building, safety issues, a leak of the outdated heating/cooling system into the whole building that collapsed a part of the 2nd floor deck, no working washers/dryers (landlord refuses to replace them), problems with the fire alarm system that means the main evacuation alarm goes off 1-2x a week at random, etc. It has been stressful!

There is hope if you are in a situation like this!

Finding my voice

When I started talking to other people about my awful experiences living here, I realized I was accepting substandard conditions for myself. Strangers and friends alike were horrified at the conditions of this building—the disrepair, mismanagement of funds, bedbugs, homophobia, etc. I knew I needed to fight back, and I knew I deserved a safer and more habitable place to live. I also have C-PTSD and the environment here means that I have been struggling to sleep, relax, or rest at all. I realized I deserve better!

I am going to outline the steps I took over my year+ of living here that led to a successful complaint of discrimination against the housing commission and them being forced to act.

Four steps for a successful discrimination complaint

(Note: I will include information about other types of HUD complaints throughout these steps. However, I can only speak on my experience filing a discrimination complaint. Suggestions for other types of complaints are just tips and please contact HUD via the methods below for information specific to your situation)

Step one: Documentation!

  • If you are facing any kind of discrimination, inhabitable living situations, bedbugs, harassment, safety issues, retaliation from the property manager, etc, documentation is key! Take deep breaths and remember to document in the moment, even if it’s stressful. It will help later!    If you are facing any type of harassment, report it to the property manager and occupancy specialist in writing. If your safety is compromised, always call 911. If you must call 911 due to harassment, make sure you get the incident report number to include in your formal complaint. Make sure that you report the incidents in writing (email or regular snail mail). What I started doing was sitting down and writing an email of my experience with tenant-on-tenant harassment as soon as I came into my apartment, so it was fresh on my mind. If your landlord is harassing you, write down your details in a Word document or notebook with time and date of the incident.
  • Document EVERYTHING! Talk to the property manager in email or snail mail as much as possible. I have taken pictures of some of the lack of repairs around the building that are unsafe, videos of water leaking through the roof, etc. I also have taken photos and videos of bedbugs in case I need to prove this. All of this proves a larger problem from the property manager and is good evidence for any type of complaint to HUD.

Step two: File your discrimination complaint within 180 to 300 days of the last incident(s)

https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/online-complaint

Use this link to file a written complaint for discrimination. Just being disabled means that you are covered under this section but there are many ways that you may be discriminated against. The Civil Rights Department will file a lawsuit if the latest incident of discrimination happened less than 5 months (180 days) to 9 months (300 days) later due to statute of limitations. The time range will depend on your specific situation and the lawyer will explain this to you.

This part of the HUD website is for two types of complaints:

  • Discrimination under the Fair Housing Act (including housing that is privately owned and operated)
  • Discrimination and other civil rights violations in housing and community development programs, including those funded by HUD

Use this link below for other discrimination types and Housing Choice Voucher complaints.

https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/get_help_filing_complaint?fbclid=IwAR0den-DPE0nr0DRaSbpRXxbdn8VVGmpUisCw0CGbps5DQ–7DFXrDArsWo

Follow this link below for information on Fair Housing Assistance through organizations that can investigate your discrimination claim and help/resources if you are not ready to file a complaint with HUD yet. (Note: in my personal experience, I had far more success with filing directly with HUD. The process that the Fair Housing Center wanted to go through was not helpful for me. They wanted to send an actor to pretend to be LGBT and see if the person was discriminated against to “prove” discrimination. The HUD complaint process focused on my personal experience and I liked that.)

https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/contact_fhip?fbclid=IwAR0nYgpe0e4P2RdSMPujNuFTZMXQSWkD5HBvt05PW1yzyQQ4ygUW9CHyp_c

On the HUD website, there is a section that talks about where you can file a complaint for poor maintenance, sanitation issues (this includes bedbugs!), safety issues, and other mismanagement of property by a HUD-funded property: Multifamily Housing Complaint Line at 1-800-MULTI-70 (1-800-685-8470)  

Step three: Provide documentation and formally file a complaint

Your first point of contact is the civil rights intake lawyer who then passes on your information to an investigator to gather your evidence. They are both lawyers and they are experts in this field.

The intake lawyer will ask you in writing via mail/email to explain the who, what, where, when, and how of your discrimination claim. They want to know the incidents that were discriminatory, how it affected your life adversely, who was discriminating against you, what outcome you want, where/when it happened, etc, etc.

All my evidence and personal narratives proved that I was being discriminated against and harassed so much that I could not use the common areas of the building. That was a huge part of my lawsuit.

If you file through the other means I listed above, HUD will still launch an investigation and they are very serious about doing so.

After you provide your evidence, the investigator will either tell you that there is not enough evidence to file a formal complaint of discrimination or that there is enough evidence. If there is not enough evidence to support your claim, they will explain to you steps that you can take and things you can send them to help your claim.

One of the things the lawyer told me is that it is very easy to prove discrimination through their department since it is based on your personal experience. The documents the intake lawyers send to you ask you all about your experience—you tell your story of how the discrimination affected your life. Your story is your story, and you cannot tell it wrong! Just tell your truth.

If there is enough evidence, you decide if you want to continue with the complaint process. The formal complaint paperwork needs to be notarized. One thing I would recommend is checking if your local bank or credit union has a free notary—a lot do, and that is how I get my paperwork notarized for free.

Step four: Waiting and getting the outcome you want

Everyone’s desired outcome is going to be different. The court process is intense and long, and when your housing is unsafe and unhealthy, you might just want to move. Some people might want to go to court because they deserve justice for the things they went through, and that is completely valid and understandable. Do what is right for you—the lawyers ask you this for a reason! For me, moving ASAP was my priority. I didn’t want to go to court, I just wanted to live somewhere else that was safe and appropriate for my disabilities.

When someone is “served” with a formal complaint by the HUD Civil Rights lawyers, they are given a certain amount of time to act before it ends up in court. The HUD lawyers explained to me that generally, most places take action to resolve the issue when they are “served” because they do not want to be taken to court.

If you feel that the action they take when they are “served” is sufficient, you can then withdraw your complaint to say that you find that action satisfactory and it solves your issue. You would have to let your lawyer know so they can file paperwork.

A tip I will add is please do not withdraw your complaint if your landlord tells you they are going to do something. Wait until you have written proof, signed paperwork, etc for whatever outcome you want. Retaliation is common in these situations, and it is illegal. However, in an unsafe situation, you want the quickest outcome, and it will drag out if you withdraw your complaint too soon and then you need to re-open your complaint.

Remember, don’t feel like you must accept something that doesn’t solve your issue! You can talk to your lawyer because they can also negotiate with the landlord and let them know what you want. If not, you can absolutely take it to court!

My Outcome—Moving!

The housing commission that I filed a complaint against did a few things after they were “served”. I also experienced another assault from my ex-partner in this building, and they did not make me aware of my rights under VAWA (Violence against women act—this covers people of any gender who are survivors of domestic violence despite its name). A lot has gone on in this building so it’s hard to write it out all without writing a novel. They knew if we went to court, I’d have a LOT to sue them for.

About a week after they were “served”, they sent me paperwork to invoke my VAWA rights—which gives you the ability to request an emergency transfer somewhere else because you are not safe where you are living. They told me there was nowhere else for me to move, and magically, they issued me a mobile section 8/housing choice voucher.

I feel that it is not an accident that they issued me a section 8/housing choice voucher a week after they received my formal complaint. Once I signed my paperwork and received my official voucher, I contacted the lawyers and withdrew my complaint.

I was grateful this ended up being the outcome because I have struggled with housing insecurity my whole life due to being disabled since I was a child and on SSI. Now, I don’t have to worry about being homeless again, or staying in unsafe relationships to try to avoid homelessness.

As of this writing, I am moving into a one-bedroom ranch type townhome in a few weeks with my own private entrance, backyard, etc, in a gorgeous area. It is single level, and I am receiving funding through social services organizations to add in a portable ramp for my power wheelchair. I used my voucher to find this rental townhome and I only had to use one extension to find it.

I know that it is a lot of work and stress when your housing situation is unsafe. Utilize as many resources as you can and fight back. One thing I had to learn in so many aspects of my life is this—I deserve better! You deserve better too.

Liam’s Lovely New Home

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