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Does Old, Converted Housing Have to Comply With Fair Housing Act?

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on May 19, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It's a fair question that deserves to be asked: does old but converted housing have to comply with the Fair Housing Act?

No, say federal courts... so long as those converted buildings are built before March 13, 1991.

FHA and Accessibility

The Fair Housing Act was part of the overall Civil Rights Act (and movement) during the 1960's. The Act generally guarantees open and fair access to housing independent of one's suspect classification. Subsequent legislation has built off those rights, to grant expanded access to disabled persons. On occasion, the ambiguity of the act has led to conflicts over what the term "access" encompasses.

Conversion of Old, Litigation of New

In the present case, developers bought an old factory building that was originally built in 1912. The building had been used for industry up until the mid 90's until finally being abandoned. The developers had wanted to redevelop the entire building into converted residential and retail space. Potential tenants were already being accepted.

But a local housing advocacy group sued to enjoin further development on the theory that the plan violated the accessibility provisions of the FHA. This presented a legal question for the lower court. Here it is verbatim from the circuit's opinion: "do the design and accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act (FHA), 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3)(C), apply to a commercial building that was originally constructed before the requirements' effective date, but converted into residential units after that date?"

Short Answer, No; Long Answer, Yes With a 'But'

The trial court dismissed the suit by the advocacy group and lamented the paucity of precedent that could be drawn from. The dismissal was largely based on the Department of Housing and Urban Development's own interpretation of FHA which broadly exempts converted residential buildings from accessibility requirements under the act so long as the subject buildings were built before March 13, 1991. The circuit saw nothing wrong with this line of reasoning and affirmed.

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