About the Fair Housing Commission

The Somerville Fair Housing Commission receives complaints about possible fair housing violations and works to prevent the same.

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  • Who We Are & What We Do

  • Fair Housing Laws

  • Frequently Asked Questions

  • Report Discrimination

  • Tenant Resources

Background

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 the Central Library conference room, 79 Highland Avenue, but please call for exact date and time.

Membership

The Somerville Fair Housing Commission is composed of five City residents appointed by the mayor for three-year terms. Members must include a City or Housing Authority employee, a representative of a nonprofit community-based organization, a local realtor or lender, a low or moderate income tenant, and a person with substantial civil rights experience). If you are interested in joining the Commission, please call the City’s Housing Division at 617-625-6600 ext. 2577.

  • Claudia DeAndrade
  • Jose Filho
  • Dennis Fischman
  • Rona Fischman

Fair housing laws protect all of us from discrimination based on:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Gender identity
  • Military status
  • Age (except minors)
  • Sexual orientation
  • Family status (e.g. have children)
  • Source of income (e.g. Section 8)
  • Disability
  • Marital status
  • Ancestry

For more information about your rights and responsibilities, call the Somerville Fair Housing Commission at 617-625-6600 x2500.

Tenants


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.

Landlords


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 he rents?
Owner occupied two family dwellings can rent to whom they want to without violating Fair Housing Law, except they still cannot discriminate based on Race or receipt of Public assistance which includes housing subsidies like Section 8. 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).