About the Fair Housing Commission
Monday - Wednesday
8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
8:30 a.m. - 7:30 p.m.
8:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
50 Evergreen Ave.
Somerville, MA 02145
The Fair Housing Commission was established by City ordinance in 1985. Its powers and duties include:
- Receiving complaints about possible fair housing violations and providing information and assistance, including referrals to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) and Cambridge and Somerville Legal Services.
- Undertaking activities to increase the understanding of tenants, homeowners, landlords, realtors and lenders of their rights and responsibilities under state and federal fair housing laws. These activities include developing educational materials and conducting training and community outreach.
- Undertaking activities that promote goodwill and minimize discrimination in housing, including sponsoring an annual fair housing poster contest in the elementary schools and conducting studies and research.
The Commission generally meets on the fourth Thursday of each month at 4 p.m. Upcoming meetings will be posted on the City's online calendar here.
The Somerville Fair Housing Commission is composed of five City residents appointed by the mayor for three-year terms. At least three members of the fair housing commission shall live in the city and the remaining members shall either live or work in the city at the time of their appointment and throughout their tenure. The members of the commission shall include persons who have experience or a demonstrated interest in housing, social services, or civil rights. One commissioner shall be a representative from the administration of the housing authority. One commissioner shall be a Somerville tenant who, at the time of his or her appointment, is eligible on the basis of income for assisted housing in the city. If you are interested in joining the Commission, please call the City’s Housing Division at 617-625-6600 ext. 2578.
- Claudia DeAndrade
- Patrice Faulkner
- Dennis Fischman
- Rona Fischman
- Janine Lotti
Fair Housing Laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of the following Protected Classes:
- National origin
- Gender identity
- Military status
- Age (except minors)
- Sexual orientation
- Family status (e.g. have children)
- Source of income (e.g. Section 8)
- Marital status
- Genetic information
For more information about your rights and responsibilities, call the Somerville Fair Housing Commission at 617-625-6600 x2578.
I have seen apartment advertisements online that said “No Section 8,” “earned income only,” or “apartment will not pass an inspection.” Are these advertisements discriminatory and illegal?
In Massachusetts, it is discriminatory to limit access to housing based on receipt of government (public) assistance. Government (public) assistance would include, but is not limited to Veteran’s benefits, Unemployment, Social Security, SSI, SSDI, Food stamps, Fuel assistance and all types of rental vouchers. Households who receive this type of assistance are members of a Protected Class.
My application for an apartment was denied because I have a low credit score and admitted to being a smoker on my application. Is that discriminatory and illegal?
No, it is Not discriminatory or illegal, to deny a rental application because of poor credit and the applicant being a smoker. Smokers are not a Protected Class; therefore Landlords can choose to deny an application strictly because the applicant smokes.
I called a landlord/broker about an apartment and was asked if I was an international student? The landlord/broker stated they were not renting to International students. Is this a Fair Housing violation?
Under Massachusetts law, students are not a Protected Class and therefore, landlords/brokers can refuse to rent to them without it being discriminatory or illegal. However, a case can be made that the student is being discriminated based on National Origin (they are from a different country) and that is illegal and a Fair Housing violation.
Can I refuse to rent or approve an application of someone with children under the age of six if there is Lead in the unit?
No, Under Massachusetts General Law chapter.111, section 197, property owners and/or their agents are prohibited from refusing to rent someone with a child under the age of six.
If a unit has lead in it and it is known by the tenant prior to moving in or while residing in the unit, does the landlord still have to de-lead the unit?
Yes, an owner of a home in Massachusetts built before 1978 must have the home inspected for lead if a child under six years old lives there. If lead hazards are found, the home must be de-leaded.
Is it illegal if I do not choose an applicant for an apartment unit with a Section 8 Voucher?
It depends. If you chose not to rent to them solely or in part because they have a Section 8 Voucher, then Yes, that is illegal. Section 8 Voucher holders are a protected class under Mass General Law c.151B, section 4 in regards to people who receive some sort of Public Assistance. It is important to remember you cannot treat someone differently when you’re trying to rent out an apartment if they belong to a protected class.
Are there any exemptions or special circumstances to Fair Housing Law when a landlord resides in the property they rent?
Owner-occupied two-family dwellings do have an exemption, but it only involves families with children. There is also an exemption for dwellings containing three or fewer units and one of the apartments is occupied by an elderly (65+) or infirm person (disabled or suffering from chronic illness).
Cambridge and Somerville Legal Services
Fair Housing Commission Brochure
The Tenant’s Helper: A Handbook for Renters
Fair Housing Fact Sheet for Tenants
Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination
Metro Housing Boston Fair Housing and Civil Rights
Mass. Legal Help - Getting Organized
Somerville Know Your Rights: Fair Housing 101
Suffolk Law Housing Discrimination Testing Program
Fair Housing Commissioner videos
2021 Candidate Questionnaire and Responses
Responses to Fair Housing Questionnaire from candidates running for office in Somerville.
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