Besides the serious health issues they deal with, people living with HIV often face stigma and discrimination almost on a daily basis because of their HIV/AIDS status. For starters, stigma is an unfriendly attitude towards a group or an individual from society, individuals, or institutions because someone suffers from an attribute perceived as undesirable. It leads to ostracizing and denial of services to such a group or individual. Discrimination is consequence of stigma, and it occurs when particular unfair or unjust actions are taken against any person just because they belong to a certain stigmatized group.
Some people living with HIV/AIDS have lost or been denied housing, employment, and a raft of other important services. In this article we will discuss the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS, especially with regard to accessing housing, how to detect stigma and discrimination, and the steps one can take to remedy discrimination.
Rights of HIV/AIDS Patients to Access Housing
The living conditions of people with HIV contribute to their ability to live healthily. If they had safe, decent, and affordable housing, they’d be able to access comprehensive healthcare and supportive services, enroll on HIV treatment, consistently take their medication, and visit their healthcare provider as often as prescribed. The flipside is that individuals suffering from HIV and who are homeless or lack reliable housing are likely to have poor access to regular care and delay their HIV care. They might also not adhere to HIV treatment. Therefore, it can’t be gainsaid that securing stable housing for HIV positive people is an essential part of a successful HIV outcome.
It is for that reason that the Federal Fair Housing Act comes in handy to remedy problems of discrimination and stigma that only exacerbate the woes of people living with HIV/AIDS. The Federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against disabled people or their associates. Under the act, a person is disabled if they have a physical or mental disability that negatively impacts on a major life activity. People with AIDS re considered disabled under Fair Housing laws. Accordingly, federal law makes it illegal to discriminate against any person in provision of housing because:
1) The individual has AIDS or a HIV infection
2) Has family members or guests who have AIDS or HIV infection
3) The person is wrongly thought to have AIDS or HIV infection, though they don’t have it.
The Fair Housing Act provides that multi-family housing units to have certain features that make them more accessible to disabled persons. Disabled people have a right to ask for reasonable accommodations and modifications. Reasonable accommodation in this case means a change in policy, rule, practice, or service that permits a person with a disability, in this case HIV/AIDS, to live in the property just as would a person without disabilities. That might include the landlord permitting such a person to live with a therapy animal, even if the property has a no-pet policy, or allow the tenant to keep a live-in aide not included in the lease to assist them with daily care.
The reasonable accommodations prong of the Fair Housing Act is also applicable if the person suffering from AIDS can’t afford to rent or buy a house because their income is restricted due to their HIV status. In Giebler vs. M&B Associates, a rental property owner refused to make an exception for a man who couldn’t meet the minimum income qualifications because he’d been disabled by AIDS. The ninth circuit court found that the peoperty owner had violated the FHA.
Also, FHA prohibits inquiries into the status of people living with HIV. HUD’s regulations make it illegal under the FHA for property managers or owners to investigate the nature or severity of prospective renters or buyers’ disability.
What constitutes discrimination?
The following acts constitute discrimination under the FHA:
- False information just to keep away a person living or thought to be living with HIV
- Inquiring into the nature and extent of a person’s HIV status
- Refusal to sell or rent to a person deemed to have HIV
- Terms that are discriminatory to a person living with HIV
- A refusal to permit a reasonable accommodation and modification
- Discriminatory advertising, which could read like “You need not apply if you have HIV”
Remedies for Discrimination
An HIV positive person who’s been discriminated on can report the violation to HUD within a year after the act. HUD will investigate the allegation, and if it finds reasonable cause to support the allegation, it will issue a charge of discrimination. The complainant can elect within twenty days to have the U.S. Justice Department file a suit in the name of the US against the respondent, which means the complainant benefits from the free legal representation and the possibility of a punitive award of damages.
Such matters are ordinarily heard before an administrative law judge. The judge, after finding for the complainant, can award actual damages, impose civil penalties, and award injunctive relief.
The aggrieved party may choose not to wait for HUD to complete its investigations, and go straight to filing a private suit in either federal or state court.
There is a robust regime of anti discrimination laws to guard against discrimination. Just apprise yourself of your rights and take action when you feel discriminated against on the basis of HIV.