Discrimination poses challenges for both tenants and landlords | New

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Many Oklahomans are facing challenges buying homes or entering into rental agreements, and the situation doesn’t seem to be improving anytime soon.

Certain segments of the population may have difficulty obtaining mortgages. Jacob Channel, senior economist for LendingTree, analyzed state-level data from the Census Bureau’s 2020 American Community Survey with five-year experimental estimates. This analysis concerns same-sex and opposite-sex households.

For Oklahoma, Channel found that of 807,021 couple-occupied households, 1.266% were occupied by same-sex couples. 796,808 were opposite-sex households and 10,213 were same-sex households.

Although Channel said it’s difficult to say how reliable this data is because there is relatively little research on the finances of same-sex couples, he concluded that housing issues for these couples are complex.

“Our study shows that same-sex couples are more likely to live in states with higher home prices,” Channel wrote on June 7. “Additionally, research indicates that same-sex couples are more likely to have their mortgage applications turned down or receive lower interest rates than heterosexual couples.

The Fair Housing Act protects people from discrimination when they rent or buy a home, get a mortgage, apply for housing assistance, or engage in other housing-related activities. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development website states that the law prohibits discrimination in housing because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation), family status and disability.

These protections apply to local tenants. Staff attorney Brooke Crow works for the Tahlequah office of Oklahoma Legal Aid Services. When it comes to fair housing laws, Crow said, more than city ordinances apply to tenants and landlords.

“State and federal fair housing laws apply equally to all landlords, whether subsidized, private or not,” Crow said.

Crow directed people to the Legal Aid website for more information on fair housing and sample accommodation request letters. Tenants can ask their landlords for disability-related accommodations. Owners cannot refuse to comply with requests, unless doing so would impose an undue burden or difficulty.

“The best example of this is a no-pets rule,” Crow said.

Many rental ads state that pets are not allowed. However, if the person has a service or assistance animal, owners must make an exception to this rule.

Crow gave another common example. If rent is usually due on the first of the month and the disabled person receives these funds on the third, a request to change the due date must be accepted.

“They should do their best to put their request in writing,” Crow said.

Some fear that landlords will retaliate against tenants for exercising their rights. It may look like a rent increase in response to a tenant requesting a repair. State Representative Mickey Dollens shed some light on this in a June 22 press release on his recently filed Interim Study Applications.

“Oklahoma is one of six states that doesn’t have anti-retaliation laws to protect tenants from vindictive landlords,” Dollens said. “Weak tenant protection laws are attracting out-of-state corporate investors looking to prey on vulnerable Oklahomans.”

Although there is no specific state law against this, according to Crow, owners should not be able to retaliate.

“Oklahoma does not have an express prohibition against retaliation,” Crow said. “Owners have a duty to act in good faith.”

“Good faith” in this instance means honesty in fact in the conduct of the relevant transaction, as defined in Title 41 of the Oklahoma Statutes – Landlord and Lessee. Both landlords and tenants are required to act in good faith.

“If they have questions, they can contact us or contact the US Department of Housing and Urban Development,” Crow said.

Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma is a nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services to eligible individuals.

“We try to help everyone we can,” Crow said.

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Oklahoma Legal Aid Services has more information available on their websites at www.legalaidok.org and www.oklaw.org.