What You Should Know About Housing Discrimination Laws

Housing discrimination laws play an important role in protecting renters and prospective homeowners from abuse and discrimination. This includes discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or familial status. Housing discrimination laws apply in a wide variety of cases, including when individuals rent a home, purchase a home, secure a mortgage, or engage in other similar activities. A failure to comply with housing discrimination laws may result in civil lawsuits.

The Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968

The Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 was signed into law by President Johnson as a follow up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These laws expanded upon previous legislation in order to prohibit discrimination on a variety of different fronts, including:

  • Race;
  • Gender;
  • Religion;
  • Nationality;
  • Disability;
  • Family status.

What Is Prohibited

Under the Federal Fair Housing Act, it is illegal to discriminate against tenants or prospective home-buyers because of race, nationality, sex, religion, disability, or family status. This includes:

  • Refusing to rent a home or apartment;
  • Refusing to sell a home or apartment;
  • Making housing unavailable;
  • Setting different terms or conditions for the rent or sale of a property;
  • Denying that a property is available for rent or sale;
  • Indicating preferences or discriminations;
  • Evicting tenants;
  • Harassing tenants or guests;
  • Delaying repairs;
  • Limiting access to services and facilities;
  • Refusing a mortgage;
  • Imposing different terms on a mortgage loan;
  • Threatening or coercing a tenant;
  • Retaliating against someone who has filed a complaint.

Who Is Protected

There are several different classes of people protected by law under the Federal Fair Housing Act, including people of different races, religions, national origin, family status, and age.

Race or Religion

It is illegal to discriminate against a prospective renter or homeowner on the basis of race or religion, and you cannot refuse them the right to rent or purchase a home for that reason.

National Origin

National origin is another protected class when it comes to housing discrimination. If a prospective tenant or homebuyer is from another country, it is illegal to discriminate against them based on their country of origin. While sometimes similar, this protection is distinct from race.

Familial Status or Age

It’s also prohibited to discriminate against tenants or prospective homeowners on the basis of familial status or age.

  • Discrimination Against Families – You can’t discriminate against someone on the basis of whether or not they’re married, single, or have children. In particular, it’s illegal to discriminate against a family with children looking to rent or purchase a home.
  • Age Discrimination – You can’t discriminate against someone on the basis of age, whether because they are young or elderly.

Sex and Sexual Harassment

It’s illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of sex or to sexually harass them. This means that you can’t refuse to rent or sell a property to someone because of their sex. It’s also illegal to commit verbal or sexual harassment against a tenant or home buyer. This can include inappropriate touches, messages, or offering to trade rent for romantic or sexual favors.

People With Disabilities

You can’t discriminate against individuals with disabilities. This can include both physical disabilities as well as mental disabilities.

  • Discriminatory Questions and Actions – It is illegal to ask discriminatory questions or perform discriminatory actions against a protected group. This can include steering people toward renting or purchasing a home because of a disability, or asking inappropriate personal questions.
  • People with Mental or Emotional Impairments – Landlords and property sellers are required to make reasonable accommodations for people with mental or emotional impairments. This can include sending correspondence and questions to a designated family member or friend, or providing any other reasonable modifications that a tenant or home buyer requests.
  • Rights To Accessible Places – Many apartments are also required to be accessible to people with disabilities, including the presence of handicap ramps, railings, and accessible facilities on the property.

Limited Protection for Alcoholics and Drug Users

More limited protections are available for alcoholics and drug users. In certain cases, addiction can be considered a disability, which is a protected class when it comes to housing discrimination. While addiction may be considered a disability, however, landlords and property owners are still allowed to take action against tenants who commit illegal acts on their property, including illicit drug use.

Properties That Are Exempt From Federal Antidiscrimination Laws

Under some limited circumstances, federal anti-discrimination laws don’t apply to some properties. These include owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, single-family houses sold or rented by the owner without the use of an agent, and housing operated by religious organizations and private clubs.

Can a Landlord Refuse to Rent To Someone?

Landlords can refuse to rent to someone for a variety of different reasons, as long as they comply with federal anti-discrimination laws. For example, a landlord can refuse to rent to a tenant because they have poor credit, insufficient income, or bad references. Landlords can also prohibit activities like smoking or pet ownership.

Fair Housing Assistance Program Agencies

Many state fair housing laws may cover or protect situations that might be exempt from federal law. If you think you’ve experienced discrimination when it comes to housing, you can contact the FHAP agency in your state for assistance.

If you think you may have been discriminated against, there are a variety of resources at your disposal. In addition to filing a complaint with the HUD, you can also seek legal help. A lawyer can help you to file a lawsuit against the person or organization that discriminated against you.

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