Realtor.com quoted me in Mom on Maternity Leave Denied a Mortgage: Could It Happen to You? It opens,
Hopeful home buyers can be denied loans for all kinds of reasons, from a poor credit score to low income. It sucks, but it makes sense: Lenders prefer giving cash to people who can pay them back. (Can you blame them?) Yet, sometimes people are turned away for dumb reasons. Take, for instance, the recent case of a Philadelphia mom who was denied a mortgage because she was on maternity leave. It was even paid maternity leave, with a firm date to return to her job. What’s up with that?
According to the Washington Post, the mom in question (who remains anonymous) had applied for financing with her husband to fund renovations on a house in Philadelphia. But due to her maternity leave, her pay stubs showed she was on “short-term disability,” which prompted the loan’s underwriter to surmise she might not resume working full time—even though her employer was happy to submit a letter indicating the day she’d return to the office.
And this mom is hardly alone: Over the past six years, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has documented over 200 cases alleging maternity-related discrimination against women seeking mortgages. In one case, a lender in Arkansas allegedly told the applicant that she’d have to be back at work before her loan could close!
And this is a shame, because housing discrimination—based on gender, familial status, disability, race, and other factors—has been illegal since the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Yet apparently it still exists even at prominent mortgage companies, as evidenced by the cases against Wells Fargo, Bank of America, PNC Mortgage, and others.
As for why this happens, experts surmise it’s because some lenders have outdated notions of women in the workplace, presuming most will bail or scale back on their jobs once kids enter the picture, permanently reducing the family’s income and eligibility for a loan. But it’s hardly the norm: Census data suggest that more than half of first-time mothers return to work within three months. Another study by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Maternal and Child Health Bureau found that the average maternity leave lasted a mere 10 weeks.
Bottom line: These days, many moms return to the office—yet some mortgage companies have missed that memo. But luckily, some moms are fighting back—like the Philadelphia woman above, who has recently reached a “conciliation agreement” with the lender, Citizens Bank of Pennsylvania. Although the company denied discriminating against her, it also agreed to conduct fair lending training sessions with staff.
And more should follow, Shanna Smith, president and chief executive of the National Fair Housing Alliance, told the Post: “There needs to be much better training for [lenders] about how to deal with interrupted income for loan closings when a woman is pregnant and [on] paid maternity leave.
All of which may have women everywhere wondering: If they hope to buy a home, might maternity leave get in their way? And if so, what should they do? Probably the first step is just knowing that it’s wrong: Maternity leave—paid or unpaid—is not a legitimate reason to refuse a loan.
“It always helps when you know your rights,” says David Reiss, research director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School. “If your lender appears to be violating fair lending laws, you may want to raise the issue directly with your banker and ask to speak to the supervisor to ask the bank to clarify its policy. If your lender continues to enforce a discriminatory policy, you can reach out to the relevant regulators, including HUD and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.”