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How to prevent co-op housing discrimination claims

A housing cooperative or “co-op” is a residential alternative that operates like a nonprofit corporation. Residents are also members jointly owning shares that allow them to live in their homes. As shareholders, they have a say on how to run things around the development.

However, despite the Fair Housing Act prohibiting unfair treatment against protected classes, such as race, sex, religion, disability or familial status, co-op housing discrimination persists.

Knowing how to address this problem can help housing cooperatives avoid unwanted claims.

Ways to fight co-op housing discrimination

Although anti-discrimination laws strive to insulate housing cooperatives from legal action by encouraging stricter compliance, unlawful practices continue to permeate the system. Some biases are overt, while others are more implicit. Disqualification due to a name that sounds like someone from a specific lineage may seem harmless, but can be an unconscious way of displaying bias.

However, these behaviors are preventable through inclusive initiatives:

  • Develop, enforce and maintain a standard of conduct: The board of directors, committee members and staff must be aware of internal policies and train for implementation. Doing so eliminates information gaps and improves adherence to the rules.
  • Create open lines of communication: Although not impossible, discriminatory acts are challenging to prove. Thus, officers and members must have means to report prejudicial events. This procedure can produce relevant proof to support or invalidate a claim.
  • Stay abreast with overlapping state and federal laws: Adjust bylaws to keep up with the times. In Michigan, disabled individuals have a right to reasonable accommodations. They can request for a designated parking, or a service animal despite a no-pet policy and structural modifications (e.g., ramps or handlebars).

More than a residential neighborhood, housing cooperatives form a social community. Thus, disputes can be tough for everyone. So, the first course of action must be to try to find a common ground and hear each one out. Unfortunately, some cases are beyond resolution, which can escalate into a court battle. When that happens, it is crucial for those involved to come prepared and know their rights.

A complex fight requires a battle-ready legal team

Co-op discrimination lawsuits tend to be highly nuanced. Cases may have sensitive details. Involved parties may vary. It can be between two board directors, two residents, or an officer and a resident. Before deciding to pursue a claim, a legal resource can provide valuable guidance and insight on tackling the issues.