It's been two years since the Legislature passed the Utah Fair Housing Act and three years since Congress passed the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, but some people in the business of buying, selling and leasing property still don't understand the ramifications of the new and tougher statutes.
That's the view of George F. Peek, a Reno real-estate broker and regional vice president of the National Association of Realtors, whose territory includes Utah.Peek was in town for Fair Housing Month, which runs through April, and to spread the word on the more stringent enforcement provisions of the fair-housing law, a measure that extends anti-discriminatory protection to the handicapped and to families with children.
The handicapped provisions, said Peek, include specific design requirements for new multifamily dwellings available for first occupancy as of last March 13.
All units in new buildings with four or more units must be accessible and adaptable to wheelchair users if the building has an elevator. In buildings without elevators, only ground-floor units are covered by the requirements.
In the first lawsuit involving the handicapped and the new federal law, filed a year ago, the Justice Department charged that a community violated the law by refusing to issue a building permit to a group home for mentally handicapped adults.
Peek said compliance with the provisions adds $1,800 to $3,000 in construction costs per new unit, costs that must be passed on to tenants in the form of higher rents and sales prices. Combined with the loss of tax benefits in the federal tax restructuring of 1986, the result has been a severe drop in construction of multifamily housing.
The new law also eliminates "adults only" communities designed to appeal mainly to young, childless professionals. Certain types of elderly housing projects are exempted. Also, there are limitations to the open access. For example, said Peek, a landlord would likely not be in violation for refusing to rent a one- or two-bedroom apartment to a family with five or six children.
Peek said the statutes considerably strengthen the authority of the U.S. Departments of Justice and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to enforce them. Violators face potentially stiff penalties, in additional to liability for damages.
Other current concerns of the National Association of Realtors, said Peek, include the continuing possibility that Congress, in search of new revenues, will disallow the income tax deduction for mortgage interest.
"I think they will continue to peck on that, but we'll fight it all the way," he vowed.
He said the National Association also is lobbying to prevent banks from gaining authority to enter the real estate industry as brokers and developers. Because of their ability to bundle their services with a mortgage loan, he said, banks would have an unfair advantage over traditional real estate brokers.