The Fair Housing Act was first passed in 1968 (shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King). At the time, it only prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion and national origin. In 1974 discrimination based on sex was added. This law was comprehensively amended in 1988 and at that time it included discrimination against people because of disability.

The Fair Housing Act is an all encompassing law that prohibits discrimination against anyone as it pertains to housing. The Fair Housing Act design and construction requirements apply to “covered multifamily dwellings” designed and constructed for first occupancy after March 13, 1991. Buildings are not subject to this design requirement if:

  • It was occupied by March 13, 1991
  • The last building permit or renewal of a building permit was issued on or before June 15, 1990

The “first occupancy” language has been defined in HUD’s Fair Housing Act regulations as “a building that has never before been used for any purpose.” This means buildings that are rehabilitated are not covered by the design and construction requirements even if the rehabilitation occurs after March 13, 1991 and even if it is substantial rehabilitation. Be careful, however, because there are other laws that may cover those facilities. Do not assume that if it’s not covered by the Fair Housing Act there are no other requirements. Housing project can have up to six different access related laws requiring attention.

A dwelling unit, as defined by the Fair Housing Act, includes:

  • A single-family unit in buildings with four or more units
  • An apartment
  • A room in which people sleep even if they share kitchens or bathrooms, like transitional housing

The design and construction requirements apply to “covered multifamily dwellings”. Covered multifamily dwellings are:

  • All dwelling units in buildings containing four or more dwelling units if the buildings have one or more elevators AND
  • All ground floor units in other buildings containing four or more units, without an elevator.
  • This includes housing that is for rental or for sale and applies whether the housing is privately or publicly funded.

Condominiums and apartment buildings are covered by the design and construction requirements. So are time-shares, dormitories, transitional housing, homeless shelters that are used as a residence, student housing, assisted living housing, and others.

Information on FHA can be found at http://portal.hud.gov/portal/page/portal/HUD/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp.