Helping LGBT people combat housing discrimination doesn’t make you immune from it. Just ask Jeff Hammerberg, CEO and founder of GayRealEstate.com.
Two years ago, Hammerberg and his husband married in California, where it was legal, and were purchasing their first home in Colorado. Hammerberg was approved for a Veterans Affairs loan, but because the state didn’t recognize their marriage, his husband couldn’t be named in the documents.
Hammerberg had to close on the loan himself and use a quitclaim deed to legally add his husband’s name to the home’s title. The Department of Veterans Affairs has since allowed same-sex couples to apply jointly for a mortgage, but that change came too late for Hammerberg.
“[Buying a home is] one of the most significant financial decisions a family, a couple, an individual can make,” says Karen Loewy, senior staff attorney with Lambda Legal, a nonprofit that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. “And to experience discrimination in that kind of momentous life event is extremely harmful and can really have ramifications for folks.”
Where we are now
LGBT Pride Month brings with it an important milestone: June 26, 2016, marks one year since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. As of October 2015, nearly half of all same-sex couples who cohabitate were married, according to a report from the Williams Institute, UCLA’s LGBT think tank.
More married LGBT couples likely means more LGBT homebuyers. And legislation that makes it easier for couples to sign the same mortgage and receive the same titles to their homes is underway. For example, the Equality Act, introduced to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives in July 2015, would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. And since 2012, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has protected LGBT individuals living in federally subsidized housing.
But according to a 2016 Williams Institute study, LGBT people still file housing discrimination complaints as often as people of color and women.
“Unfortunately, housing discrimination protections are not a nationwide phenomenon,” says Robin Maril, senior legislative counsel with the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT civil rights organization.
What to do if you face discrimination
If you identify as LGBT, you might experience various forms of discrimination during the homebuying process. Real estate agents might refuse to represent you, or a seller or seller’s agent might suddenly say a house is off the market. Or, like Hammerberg, you might have to jump through additional hoops to get financing. When time is of the essence, these extra steps can cost LGBT homebuyers properties.
LGBT renters report discrimination as well. A 2013 HUD study showed that same-sex couples receive fewer responses to emails asking about advertised rentals than heterosexual couples, even in states with legal protections.
Before moving forward with a complaint, you need to verify that the discrimination you experienced was based on your sexuality or gender identity. If you can prove discrimination, it’s best to file a complaint as soon as possible, not only for your own sake, but to help prevent discrimination against others as well.
First, go directly to the source. Ask the lender or real estate company whether it is willing to right any wrongs. If they aren’t responsive, your options include:
- Speaking with an attorney.
Increase your odds of avoiding discrimination by using LGBT-friendly real estate agents, getting referrals from friends and family when looking for an agent and shopping around for a mortgage lender.
Your response doesn’t have to stop once you’ve closed on your home. Maril encourages people to take action by getting involved in advocacy groups and lobbying political leaders.
“The big thing is to know your rights,” she says. “In a lot of situations, you will have them.”
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