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Fair Housing Month 2012

>>ALISA WARREN: Hi, I'm Alisa Warren, the Executive Director for the Missouri Commission on Human Rights. An independent agency housed in the Missouri Department of Labor. I'm on site today at the University of Missouri School of Law in Columbia and we're here today to talk about the prevention and elimination of housing discrimination and I'm joined here today with the Associate Dean and the Associate Professor, Rigel Oliveri. Thank you so much for joining me today.

>>RIGEL OLIVERI: Thank you, Alisa.

>>ALISA: You've spent a tremendous amount of time researching and studying fair housing issues. Can you tell us what is meant by fair housing?

>>RIGEL: Fair housing is--means every person should have an equal opportunity to the home of his or her choice and that means that as long as someone can afford a home he or she should be able to rent or buy that home free of discrimination.

>>ALISA: How do state and federal laws ensure that housing practices are fair?

>>RIGEL: Well, as a society, we've decided through the enactment of the Federal Fair Housing Act and the Missouri Human Rights Act that discrimination in housing is illegal if it's done on the basis of particular protected characteristics. Those protected characteristics are race, color, religion, ethnicity, sex, disability and whether or not you have children in the household. And if these laws are violated, the violators can be subject to civil prosecution and may be hit with fines or damages awards.

>>ALISA: At the Commission we know that landlords come in all shapes and sizes from large corporate landlords to small, kind of mom and pop shops where they're just wanting to rent a room in their home. So, who must obey these laws?

>>RIGEL: Anyone who has control over residential properties. So, that would obviously include landlords, also rental management companies, reality companies, mortgage brokers, real estate brokers, land developers and because mortgage lending is also covered, mortgage brokers.

>>ALISA: There are exceptions though. Can we talk a little bit about that?;

>>RIGEL: Sure. Sure. I think what you're probably referring to is what's often called the "Mrs. Murphy Exemption". This exemption was named after a fictitious Irish widow who is forced to rent out rooms in her home in order to make ends meet. And basically the exemption is written into the law that says that if a landlord owns buildings that have four or fewer units and lives in one of those units they are not subject to most of the substantive provisions of the Fair Housing Act.

>>ALISA: So, nowadays you think more in terms of roommates rather than boarding houses and last year you wrote an excellent article in the Indiana Law Review that talked about online tenants and advertising for roommates. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

>>RIGEL: Well, first off, I should mention that obviously the Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate in the sale or rental of housing -

>>ALISA: Right.

>>RIGEL: - but in addition, it makes it illegal to make, print, or publish a discriminatory ad, statement or notice. What this means, is it is illegal for somebody, say, take out an ad in the newspaper advertising for a tenant that says something like white only.  Or no Muslims need apply -

>>ALISA: Right.

>>RIGEL: - and this provision still applies to Mrs. Murphy even though she's exempt from some of the substantive provisions of the act she's still not allowed to advertise her discriminatory preferences. The final interesting point about all of this is, of course, what's happening nowadays is that many people advertise for and seek housing on the internet. So you have websites like Craigslist and others that people use in increasing numbers and they are not subject to the same, sort of, set of legal rules as newspapers are under the Fair Housing Act. And here's the other thing; even though the websites that host these ads are immunized from liability, the individuals who post the ads are not. They are still subject to the fair housing laws like anyone else. It is important for people to know about the requirements and prohibitions of the Fair Housing Law. If they're going to do something as simple as take out an ad on Craigslist for a roommate, they need to be educated about what the law requires.

>>ALISA: And the Missouri Commission on Human Rights can help housing providers or just folks that are looking for a tenant understand and navigate those laws. You can go to our website and download the Commission's Consumer Guide that will help you with that. You can contact our office at the number listed below or you can also click on the link for a Discrimination in Housing brochure that's available on our website. Professor Oliveri, thank you so much for your time today and your hard work and the research that you do in helping to understand fair housing issues in our state.

>>RIGEL: Well, thank you.