In the United States, it is illegal for housing providers to discriminate against protected groups of people. Direct providers of housing (property owners, landlords, real estate agents, property managers, and others) must treat all potential buyers, tenants, and tenants fairly.
The best way to protect yourself from housing discrimination is to know your rights. Here are some tips to help you spot discrimination when you see it and what to do when it occurs.
What is Housing Discrimination?
Housing discrimination occurs when someone is treated badly or unfairly for having a certain quality. It is illegal to create barriers to placement or to treat someone differently because of their race, religion, color, national origin, disability, marital status, gender, or disapproval of sexual advancement.
Housing discrimination is not always evident. A sign saying “No Asians” would be very clear and the media and local civil rights groups would be quick to bring it up. Subtle discrimination is more insidious – a real estate agent encourages you to shop in a neighborhood where more residents are “like you”. A potential landlord is looking for information about your extended family, your native language or your food choices. A landlord delays repairs on your unit, but responds to other renters’ concerns in a timely manner.
If such a thing negatively affects you and is based on your membership in a protected class, then it is illegal.
What is the Fair Housing Act?
The Act on Fair Housing is a federal law that protects certain groups of people from unfair treatment in residential situations. The law became law in 1968 and expanded in 1974 and 1988. Its original purpose was to ban racial discrimination. Before 1968, the practice of redlining kept black Americans separated into separate communities. Redlining marks areas on a map to show where mortgages are not available due to the makeup of a neighborhood. Most of the complaints examined by the US Department of Justice are still related to racial discrimination.
The law was updated in 1974 to prohibit gender discrimination. In 1988 the law was updated again to add marital status and disability as protected classes.
Who is Protected by the Fair Housing Act?
The law on fair housing states that you must not discriminate based on these protected categories:
- Sex, including sexual harassment
- marital status
These categories are complex and cover broad populations. For example, if a landlord refuses to provide new locks to a victim of domestic violence, it could be gender discrimination. The “gender” category also protects against discrimination based on gender identity. Discrimination, which occurs when a housing provider mistakenly believes you belong to one of these protected categories, is also illegal.
Depending on where you live, state and local laws add to the federal Fair Housing Act. For example, your region could face illegal discrimination based on:
- Sexual orientation
- Crime story
- Immigration status
- Legal occupation
- marital status
- Military status
- Statutory source of income
Not every feature is equally protected. For example, although marital status is protected, a landlord can enforce legal occupancy limits. In many areas, two people per bedroom are considered fair. For example, a couple with three children can be legally turned away from a two-bedroom unit.
Age is also protected, but behaviors that make you an unsuitable tenant are not. The landlord cannot refuse to show an elderly person an available unit, but can refuse to rent it to that potential tenant if the previous landlord states that the tenant left the stove on frequently or forgot to rent.
Renters of rental apartments are allowed to discriminate against persons with unprotected characteristics. This includes potential tenants who:
- Have pets
- Lie down on an application
- Lack of stable employment
- Lack of sufficient income
- Do you have bad credit
- Refuse a credit check
- Have a bad rental history
What is prohibited by the Fair Housing Act?
There are many measures that are considered illegal discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. Here are some examples of things a potential landlord or seller cannot do if the promotion is based on a protected category:
- Refuse to lease, rent, or sell a property
- Refuse to negotiate to lease, rent, or sell a property
- Promote a home with a preference or restriction on a protected category (such as “no children” or “discount for Japanese renters”).
- For example, suppose a device is not available when it is available
- Distract them to other apartments or discourage them from renting or buying
- Change the price
- Create different rental or purchase conditions, e.g. B. the requirement that people of color have to prove their citizenship
- Create different rules or permissions during your tenancy
- You have to move because you are a member of a protected group
- Delay or decline repairs
- Evaluate a property that is below market value
Who is exempt from the Fair Housing Act?
The law on fair housing does not apply to all homes. For example, some types of senior housing are exempt from age discrimination laws. Single-family houses that are not advertised or brokered are exempt from the law on fair living as long as the landlord does not own more than three such houses. Condominiums with up to four units are also excluded. Properties operated by a private club or religious organization may restrict occupancy to members only. That doesn’t mean these housing providers can legally discriminate, just that the Fair Housing Act may not apply – discrimination is also prohibited by the Civil Rights Act and other laws.
What can I do if I am discriminated against?
It can be difficult to prove discrimination. Therefore, familiarize yourself with local fair living laws and federal protection.
When buying a home, stay vigilant. Lenders for first time home buyers are more of a help today. One way that redlining works is for a mortgage lender to charge higher rates to people they don’t want to work with. Use a mortgage calculator to confirm the numbers and get multiple quotes when you’re ready to buy.
If a landlord, seller, real estate agent or property manager does what you believe is violating your rights, document it. For example, if you come across an apartment ad that says “No Children”, take a screenshot or email it to yourself.
File a complaint about housing discrimination online with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development or contact the nearest HUD office for assistance.
You can also file a fair housing complaint with your local or state government. The Fair Housing Justice Center can refer you to local organizations that may be able to help. The National Fair Housing Alliance is also a good resource for this purpose. If they can’t point you to help near you, do an internet search for “[your state] fair living. “
If you think a mortgage lender is discriminating against you, file a complaint with the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.
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