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Is your co-op in compliance with the FHA?

When you are a board member for your co-op, you have a lot of responsibilities on your plate. One of the most important ones is keeping the co-op in compliance with the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The FHA, part of the Civil Rights Act in 1968, protects certain classes from experiencing discrimination when securing housing. This includes buying into co-ops.

What classes receive FHA protection

So, when co-ops review potential buyers, a co-op can’t reject someone based on any of the following:

  • Their race
  • Their color
  • Their nationality
  • Their gender
  • Their family status
  • Their disability
  • Their religion

In Michigan, fair housing laws further prevent discrimination against anyone’s age or marital status.

Preventing discriminatory practices in co-ops

To prevent discriminatory practices, co-op boards need to ensure they treat potential buyers fairly and equally. They need to allow reasonable accommodations for disabled buyers. Some examples of reasonable accommodations include:

  • Allowing service animals for disabled co-op owners
  • Allowing owners to make reasonable accommodations to their unit at their own expense
  • Giving a co-op buyer with mobility issues a parking spot near their unit or an elevator

Co-op boards also need avoid using any imagery in ads or tours that would discourage any protected class from wanting to buy into the co-op.

Some common problems co-ops face when needing to comply with the FHA include the following:

  • Co-op boards can’t reject a member because of gender. The board even can’t reject someone to try to balance a gender ratio.
  • Co-op boards can’t refuse to allow a member with a child to move in, make potential members with children follow a different application process or discourage someone with a child from moving in.

Handling rejections to the co-op

If the co-op board rejects a potential member, the board needs to notify the applicant in writing. The board needs to keep records of any rejections and have documentation of why it rejected the applicant. This will be important if the applicant seeks an appeal or files a complaint over the co-op not following fair housing practices.

Co-op board members periodically should consult with an attorney who understands the Fair Housing Act to ensure their co-op is following the standards correctly, and the board isn’t opening the co-op toward discrimination claims.