LGBT individuals, couples move closer to federal fair-housing protection

 
 
Posted5/5/2017 6:00 AM
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A ruling by a U.S. District Court judge may fuel efforts to expand the housing rights of those with "unconventional" lifestyles.

Q. Is it true that Congress has finally added fair-housing protection to LGBT people?

A. Congress hasn't passed any formal legislation to specifically extend federal fair-housing protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual individuals or couples. But a ruling issued recently by a powerful U.S. District Court judge in Denver could pressure lawmakers into expanding those safeguards to LGBT people sooner rather than later.

The complicated lawsuit was filed by Rachel Smith, a transgender woman, and Tonya Smith. The legally married parents of two young children, their lawsuit claimed they were denied a handsome but affordable rental townhouse in the suburb of Boulder, Colorado, by a landlord who cited the pair's "unique relationship."

In an email rejecting their rental application, the landlord, Deepika Avanti, also said that "they were not welcome to rent the townhouse" because a family who lived next door was worried that the Smiths' young kids would create too much noise in their quiet community.

Currently, the federal Fair Housing Act prohibits a landlord from discriminating against a potential tenant based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin. A handful of cities have specifically extended such protection to LGBT individuals and couples, but federal law has not.

The April 5 ruling by U.S. Federal Court Judge Raymond P. Moore could add some major fuel to efforts by several groups to change that.

The key question in the case was whether the provision of the Fair Housing Act that prohibits discrimination against a person's "sex" is meant to include sexual orientation or gender identity. Judge Moore ruled that it does.

In his decision, Moore agreed with the Smiths' contention that "discrimination against women (like them) for failure to conform to stereotype norms concerning to or with whom a woman should be attracted, should marry and/or should have children is discrimination on the basis of sex" -- and thereby a violation of the Fair Housing Act.

Some Congressional representatives are already using the court ruling to bolster their efforts to approve pro-LGBT housing laws and related measures. But they still are facing an uphill battle with fellow lawmakers who oppose such an expansion of federal law, previous lower-court decisions that favored landlords, and a president who hasn't taken a firm stance on either side of the issue.

Real estate trivia: A survey by the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals (www.naglrep.com) says that 54 percent of the LGBT community owns a home or at least one other type of real estate.

Q. We have had our mortgage with the same lender for several years. The bank has always sent us a payment notice around the start of each month, and we have always made the payment by the due date. However, we didn't receive a notice last month, and subsequently made the payment a few days late. Now the bank wants to charge us a $60 late-payment penalty. Is this legal, considering that we did not receive our typical monthly statement?

A. Sorry, but the lender has every right to charge you a penalty because it did not get your payment in a timely manner.

Every mortgage contract includes a provision that allows the bank to charge a late fee if the borrower fails to make a payment by its due date. There's no legal obligation to provide a monthly reminder, though many lenders do so as a courtesy to their borrowers.

Your letter states you have always made your monthly payment by its due date, so you should call your bank's customer-service department immediately to ask that the penalty be waived and removed from your record. Many lenders will do so for longtime customers with sterling payment histories.

The bank also may offer a program that will automatically debit your checking or savings account for each monthly payment so you'll never be late again. It's an option worth considering if you have a steady paycheck or collect a retirement check at regular, predictable intervals.

Q. Thank you for your recent column that explained how forming a living trust can help older homeowners like us to allow our heirs inherit our house and other assets without going through probate court. But is a "living trust" the same thing as an "inter vivos" trust?

A. Yes, it is. A living trust sometimes is called an "inter vivos trust," derived from the ancient Latin term that means "among the living."

By forming an inexpensive trust while you are alive, you will help to ensure that after you die, your home and other assets are transferred to your heirs without them having to go through costly and time-consuming probate proceedings.

• For the booklet "Straight Talk About Living Trusts," send $4 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to David Myers/Trust, P.O. Box 4405, Culver City, CA 90231-4405. Net proceeds will be sent to the American Red Cross.

© 2017, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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