June 14, 2011 > What is ECHO?
What is ECHO?
Submitted By ECHO Housing
ECHO Housing, a non-profit housing counseling agency, has been serving the Tri-City area for more than 25 years. Our fair housing program investigates housing discrimination complaints. People can make a fair housing complaint if they feel they have been denied housing, or if they are being treated differently based on their protected class. Protected classes include race, religion, color, national origin, people who have children, and people with disabilities. Many fair housing complaints that ECHO receives come from people that have children and people with disabilities.
Often owners and managers don't realize that they can't deny housing to a family with children. Sometimes a manager might be willing to rent to a family with children but they will limit families with children to living on the first floor apartment or perhaps discourage families with small children from living in the rental because the manager thinks the place isn't safe for small children. This is illegal. Families with children have the right to live wherever they what. As long as a family meets the financial requirements of a rental, they should be offered the place. Sometimes a manager might have overly restrictive rules regarding children. Perhaps they will have rules that say kids can't play on the apartment grounds or have rules that limit children from enjoying the amenities of the apartment, like a pool for instance. These are all illegal policies.
People with disabilities also face discrimination in housing. Under the fair housing laws, housing providers are required to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. A classic example of a reasonable accommodation is an apartment complex that has a "no pet policy". It is fine for managers and owners to say that dogs are not welcome to live at the apartment. However, if a person has a service animal or a therapy animal the manager/owner must allow that tenant to have his or her service animal. Since service animals are not considered to be pets, tenants can not be charged pet deposits, pet rent or other fees for the service animal. Housing providers can ask for documentation from the tenant that he or she is disabled and needs the service/therapy animal. However, housing providers are not permitted to ask a disabled applicant the nature of their disability.
There are also other protected classes such as marital status, source of income and sexual orientation. Last year, ECHO mediated and settled a source of income fair housing case in Union City for $75,000. The case involved a man who was selling his family's mobile home trailer. The trailer was housed in a local trailer park. The man owned the mobile home, but rented the space for the home. After several months offering the mobile home for sale, the owner finally found a qualified buyer. However the mobile home park manager refused to allow the owner to sell his mobile home to this particular buyer because the buyer did not have a job and would not qualify the buyer to rent the space that mobile home sat on. The buyer was getting unemployment insurance which is considered a legal source of income and is accepted just as other sources like retirement income, social security, alimony, child support, etc. The mobile home park's illegal practices cost the seller the opportunity to sale his home and cost the park $75,000.
ECHO also provides landlord-tenant counseling and mediation as well as education for both tenants and housing providers regarding their rights and responsibilities. Often tenants will call about a notice they received that they don't understand, such as three day or 30 day notice. Our landlord-tenant department also gets many calls regarding repair issues and questions regarding deposits.
Our agency also provides mortgage default counseling and home equity conversion counseling that helps seniors convert the equity in their home into cash. All of our services are free. Whether you are an owner, manager, tenant or potential tenant, you are encouraged to call ECHO for counseling and assistance. You can contact us at
(510) 581-9380 or on our website at: www.echofairhousing.org.