The Federal Fair Housing Act, as amended in 1988, prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap (disability), familial status (presence of children 18 years and younger, pregnant women, or persons anticipating an adoption), and national origin. 42 U.S.C. §3604.
The West Virginia Fair Housing Act includes the seven protected classes in the federal Fair Housing Act and also forbids housing discrimination based on blindness and ancestry. W.Va. Code §5-11A-5.
The federal and state Fair Housing Acts cover private housing, housing that receives federal financial assistance, and state and local government housing with certain exceptions. W.Va. Code §5-11A-4.
The goal of the Fair Housing Acts is to provide protection against discrimination. These civil rights laws are designed to protect applicants so that all qualified applicants are equally invited to apply for rental housing and all qualified applicants are screened fairly.
Under the West Virginia Fair Housing Act W.Va. Code §5-11A-5(a)-(e), it is illegal to take the following actions against an applicant on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap (disability), familial status, national origin, blindness, or ancestry:
• Refusing to sell or rent a dwelling after the making of a bona fide offer, to refuse to negotiate for the sale or rental of a dwelling, or to otherwise make the dwelling unavailable or deny the person the right to purchase or rent the property
• Discriminating against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental
• Making, printing, or publishing any notice, statement, or advertisement that indicates preference, limitation, or discrimination in the sale or rental of a dwelling
• Making a dwelling unavailable for inspection, sale, or rental when the dwelling is in fact available
• Attempting for profit, to induce or attempt to induce any person to sell or rent any dwelling by representations regarding the entry or possible entry into the neighborhood a person or persons of a particular race, color, religion, sex, blindness, handicap, familial status, ancestry, or national origin
According to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, it is unlawful for a landlord to discriminate against an individual based on his or her association with a person or persons of a protected class. West Virginia Human Rights Commission v. Wilson Estates, Inc., 503 S.E. 2d 6 (W. Va., 1998).
It is also unlawful to discriminate based on a disability of the renter, a person residing in, or intending to reside in, that dwelling, or any person associated with that person. W.Va. Code §5-11A-5(f)(1)-(2). In terms of the rental of property, a disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of a person’s major life activities, a record of having such impairment, or being regarded as having such impairment, but does not include current illegal use of, or addiction to, a controlled substance. W.Va. Code §5-11A-3(g)(1)-(3).
The Fair Housing Acts also require owners of housing facilities to make reasonable accommodations in their policies and operations to afford people with disabilities equal housing opportunities. The Acts require landlords to allow tenants with disabilities to make reasonable access-related modifications to their private living space. W.Va. Code §5-11A-5(f)(3)(A)-(B). In most cases, the landlord is not required to pay for the changes in private living spaces. W.Va. Code §5-11A-5(f)(3)(A).
Landlords may be responsible for making changes to private living spaces and to common-use areas such as mail and laundry facilities, under the Fair Housing Acts, in buildings constructed after March 13, 1991. W.Va. Code §5-11A-5(f)(3)(C). In addition, if the general public has access to places, such as a rental office or meeting room, it is possible the landlord may be required to make changes to these spaces under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 42 U.S.C. §§12812, 12813.
The information in this section is not a complete list of fair housing rights and responsibilities for tenants or landlords. Fair Housing is both complex and comprehensive. For more information about the Fair Housing Acts, see Appendix E.