Although recent landmark court decisions in the United States have enabled LGBTQ couples to marry, and anti-discrimination laws are being promoted by many, there is still discrimination in the United States against LGBTQ individuals, couples, and families.
The American Civil Liberties Union notes that, by the end of 2016, 20 states plus the District of Columbia banned discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations, but bills are being passed on both sides of the issue still today. Understanding the challenges facing LGBTQ people, particularly in housing, can be incredibly helpful.
Rights and Discrimination
LGBTQ people around the world face significant discrimination, legal action, or even violence, according to Human Rights Watch. In housing in the United States, they can also face challenges, but there are some rights that are guaranteed under current legislation.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development notes that the federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on a number of factors, but does not include sexual orientation or gender identity as a prohibited discrimination reason. There are loopholes to this law. For example, if an LGBTQ person is denied housing or discriminated against because they are not conforming to a particular notion of how one sex should act, this is a violation of the Act, as discrimination based on sex is prohibited.
Many states and cities also have their own anti-discrimination acts. FindLaw notes that several states, as well the District of Columbia, prohibit discrimination against homosexuals. Some cities, like Atlanta, also have specific nondiscrimination laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Jointly Owned Property
Although same-sex couples can now legally marry in every state in the United States, if a couple is unmarried, or engaged, there are several things to consider when buying or renting property. The Human Rights Campaign has an excellent list of terms and resources that LGBTQ couples should consult, as they may face discrimination in access.
Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship
Joint tenancy with right of survivorship is one of the most common ways an unmarried couple can protect their property and own it together. The Military Officers Association of America notes that this type of ownership means that both parties own a property and if one dies, the property reverts solely to the other owner.
Tenants in Common
Tenants in common is another way to make sure that any property you or your partner own goes to who you want after your death. Cornell Law School notes that this type of ownership avoids automatic survivorship so you can designate who you want your property to go to. This is especially useful for unmarried couples who want their partners to receive property ahead of any blood relatives.
Sole ownership may have a tax advantage, but it also requires vigilance and trust. If the sole owner of a property dies and no further estate planning documents are in place, the property reverts to the state or closest legal heirs, according to the New Mexico State University College of Agriculture and Home Economics. As this could leave the surviving partner in a bind, other documents should be considered before choosing sole ownership.
Married couples may not face all of the same legal hoops that unmarried couples do, but, as LGBTQ couples, they may still be subject to discrimination when trying to own property. Married LGBTQ couples are protected by HUD, but may not be protected on a state or federal level because of their unprotected sexual orientation and gender identity statuses. Wake Forest University offers an extensive array of information on the topic.
Mortgages and Joint Ownership
For LGBTQ couples and individuals, getting a mortgage and creating a joint ownership situation is becoming easier. The US Department of Veterans Affairs notes that their mortgage and benefit programs are now available to all qualifying veterans and beneficiaries. In addition, in 2016 the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau declared that the Equal Credit Opportunity Act protected people based on sexual orientation and gender identity as well. Currently, bills are circulating the government to call for this change to be added to the ECOA.
Domestic Partnership Agreements
A domestic partnership has many similarities to marriage and allows two unmarried people to benefit from similar rights and privileges. Southern Illinois University Edwardsville notes that domestic partnerships have strict requirements. For some couples, this may be an alternative to marriage that can still afford property rights and protections.
Home Loans and Financing
Buying a home is exciting, but it’s also a stressful and complicated process. For LGBTQ couples, this is no different. Securing financing and loans is the first step in owning a home. USA.gov provides a resource guide on the types of mortgages available, which is a great place to start. In addition, the Federal Housing Finance Agency has a list of resources, including rights and protections, for homebuyers.
Tips for Minimizing Estate Taxes
No matter how advantageous your tax position, the odds are that you will have to pay some taxes regularly. LGBTQ families may, according to Movement Advancement Project, face inflated tax burdens and more complicated tax filing situations. They offer a guide to help families and individuals understand their tax situations and know who to call if they are treated unfairly.
Just Fund Kentucky notes that gift planning is crucial, especially if you are worried about estate taxes, and particularly for LGBTQ couples who may want to donate (or not donate) to specific causes and who may want their property to go to their partner, whether married or not.
The New York Community Trust gives an excellent guide for tax planning. Reducing income and estate taxes takes proper planning but it is possible.
There are many resources for LGBTQ home buyers and potential home buyers. Point Foundation offers resources for education funding that can assist in freeing up home buying funds, and the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging offers a fact sheet on federal laws concerning fair housing. SAGE also has multiple resources, including a list of state by state resources available for LGBTQ people.
Finding professionals who understand the complicated legal and financial situations many LGBTQ people find themselves in can be crucial to successful home buying, home ownership, and estate planning. The LGBT Bar DC has a list of legal resources for LGBTQ people in the DC area and beyond.
There are still challenges facing LGBTQ people when house hunting. The National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals seeks to ease that burden by offering resources and guides for finding a real estate agent.
Navigating Housing Boards and Associations
A housing board is a board that can be elected or appointed to monitor and create ordinances for a neighborhood. These boards cannot discriminate but they may have strict rules on home ownership, subletting, renting, number of occupants, and so on, according to the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority.
A neighborhood association, or a group of residents who advocate for and organize activities within their neighborhood, can be very helpful for new LGBTQ residents. The Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln notes that these groups can provide community and friendship, as well as networking and protection.
Some neighborhoods have housing boards or housing associations, and those organizations may vary in their LGBTQ-friendliness. Although they are not, as mentioned above, able to easily discriminate against LGBTQ homebuyers and homeowners, they can be difficult to work with.
The Community Associations Network notes that homeowners associations can have several pitfalls, and The Office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson notes that these groups can have complicated, and sometimes even discriminatory by-laws, so you should read all agreements carefully.
Buying, owning, renting, or even selling a home can be complicated, but here are some additional resources to help:
AARP has a great article on housing for older LGBT individuals: Housing for LGBT older adults
The American University offers an array of literature: Center for diversity and inclusion