Know Your Rights: Fair housing and protections for renters and homebuyers

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) — You've heard it before: home is where the heart is. Who doesn't want a safe, reliable place to live? It's where we rest, raise our families, relax and prepare meals.

Put simply, our home is our private sanctuary away from everything else life throws at us.

So if you're house or apartment hunting, it pays to know your rights before you start your search.

The following resources will help prepare you to make sure you're being treated fairly, safeguard against unfair fees, bad landlords, broken down units, and outright discrimination, and help you strategize solutions when problems arise.

The Fair Housing Project of the Alaska Legal Services Corporations has a great "Know Your Rights" section on its website.

The Alaska Department of Law publishes an easy-to-read guide on The Alaska Landlord & Tenant Act: What it Means to You.

The Alaska Bar Association publishes the Alaska Youth Law Guide, which has a section on housing.

The Alaska Bar Association also publishes Seniors and the Law: A Guide for Senior Citizens in the Last Frontier. It deals with housing issues on pages 20 and 21.

The things that make you you can't be used as excuses to deny you access to housing. It's against the law to deny you housing "based on your race, religion, national origin, color, gender, disability or familial status," according to Dan Coons, a Fair Housing expert with Alaska Legal Services Corporation.

"If at any time a landlord appears to be treating you different as a housing applicant, or as a tenant already, there are laws that say this is illegal," Coons told KTUU during a recent interview.

If something seems off, even if it's just a suspicion that you're not being treated fairly, local, state and federal laws can help sort it out.

"We can dig into that a little bit more and try to prove that the intent was discriminatory and not necessarily an innocent misunderstanding," Coons said.

There are also housing protections for survivors of domestic violence.

"If someone is trying to extricate themselves from a domestic violence situation, then the survivor should be the one who is allowed to stay regardless of whether they are on the lease, regardless of all the other factors," Coons said. "They are the ones who should be able to stay in the home on the perpetrator should be the one who is forced to leave."

If you're disabled, you have a right to safe ways to get in and out of, or move safely within, your house.

"It is discriminatory to deny a request for a reasonable modification to a unit like a ramp or a grab bar," Coons said.

You also have a right to have a certified service animal without paying extra fees.

"If (an) assistance pet is because of a disability, it is inappropriate to charge extra," Coons said.

The Alaska Landlord-Tenant Act covers other aspects of being a renter.

For example, a landlord

- cannot raise your rent during the term of a lease.
- cannot charge you for "normal wear and tear"
- cannot collect more than two times the monthly rent for a security deposit

A landlord also has to maintain safe, healthy living conditions. If they don't, you might be able to withhold rent, but only under certain conditions.

To try to resolve issues, Coons recommends delivering a signed, dated letter explaining the problems to your landlord. Whether small issues or big ones, sometimes all it takes is speaking up.

"Often they are not aware of what the law says about this," Coons said.

If that doesn't do the trick, reach out to an expert for help.

"It is just important for people to know these protections exist," Coons said.