Immigrant renter seeks answers about discrimination
Published 8:00 pm, Friday, June 21, 2013
Q: I have lived in my current apartment building for three years with no problems, but recently a new manager took over. I originally came to the U.S. on a work visa, but I was born and raised in China and speak Cantonese as my first language. As a result, I speak with a heavy accent. I am also much more comfortable with my written English than with speaking English. About a month ago, I got a notice of a rent increase from the new manager, which surprised me because I had just gotten a rent increase a few months earlier. When I tried to talk to her about it she kept saying that she couldn't understand me, and even got angry, eventually saying that I should "learn to speak English." Then, two weeks ago I asked her about getting my leaking faucet replaced, and she again complained that she could not understand me. She said she didn't know how I expected her to do anything for me if I couldn't speak "real English." I am afraid to complain too much about my situation because my work visa has expired and so I am not legally in this country. Can the manager treat me this way? What can I do?
A: You may be experiencing discrimination based on your national origin, which is in violation of federal and state Fair Housing laws. The Fair Housing laws protect against discrimination in rental housing on the basis of national origin. National origin discrimination is defined as different treatment in housing because of a person's ancestry, ethnicity, birthplace, culture or language. This form of discrimination includes refusing to rent to someone because their primary language is one other than English. National origin discrimination can also be a result of failing to provide the same level of service or housing amenities because a tenant born in another country does not speak English at all, or does not speak English well.
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You should not be concerned about your immigration status, because the Fair Housing laws protect you from discrimination even if your visa has expired or your immigration status is otherwise undocumented. Moreover, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the federal agency responsible for enforcing the federal Fair Housing laws, does not inquire into a complainant's immigration status when investigating complaints of housing discrimination. The federal Fair Housing laws also make it illegal for a landlord to threaten to report a tenant to the immigration authorities if the tenant files a complaint of discrimination with HUD.
You can contact your local Fair Housing Agency for help with your problem, or you can file a complaint with HUD yourself.
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