If you are involved in the real estate industry, whether you are a renter or property owner, a landlord or a seller, you should be familiar with the Fair Housing Act (42 U.S.C. §§3601-3619 & §3631). The FHA was enacted in 1968 and prohibits housing providers from discriminating against tenants and buyers. The purpose of the act is to ensure an open housing market for everyone and to proactively protect certain classes of people from discrimination. It also enables individuals who suffer from discrimination to file a complaint and seek a remedy.
Who does the FHA apply to?
The FHA applies to most direct housing providers, including:
- Property managers
- Property sellers
- Real estate companies
- Banks and other lenders
- Homeowners’ insurance companies
- Title insurance companies
What type of housing does the FHA cover?
The FHA applies to most types of housing. However, there are exceptions.
The FHA may not apply to a single-family home that is being rented without the use of a broker or other middle party and when the homeowner does not own more than three properties.
Small owner-occupied buildings may not be covered by the law. If you live in a four-flat and your landlord is one of those flats, you need to speak with a lawyer about whether you are protected by federal or state housing discrimination laws.
The FHA also may not apply to private clubs, senior housing, religious organizations who may limit tenancy based on a specific religion, and homeowners renting a single room in their house.
Who does the FHA protect?
The FHA protects individuals based on their:
- Nation of origin
- Familial status
It does not protect individuals based on other characteristics such as immigration status, gender identity and expression, or sexuality. However, some municipalities and states offer additional protection from housing discrimination based on these and other factors.
For example, in California, landlords cannot ask about tenants’ immigration status, threaten to report tenants’ immigration status to authorities, or disclose information related to tenants’ immigration status. If a landlord tries to evict a tenant or recover the unit because of their immigration status, or tells the authorities about a tenant’s status, then the tenant has the right to sue.
What counts as a discriminatory housing practice?
Housing discrimination can occur in a variety of ways, including:
- Denial of a rental application, purchase offer, or loan application because of a personal characteristic.
- Refusal to negotiate because of a characteristic of a person.
- Different prices for a rental or sale for individuals with a certain characteristic.
- Less favorable or different rental, purchase, or loan terms for individuals with certain personal characteristics.
- Different terms and conditions on a mortgage, including different interest rates, points, or fees because of a buyer’s personal characteristics.
- Refusal to provide a mortgage loan due to an individual’s personal characteristics.
- Refusal to provide information regarding home loans.
- Different facilities or services available to those with certain personal characteristics.
- Limited privileges for the property’s services or facilities for individuals with certain characteristics.
- Assigning a tenant a particular neighborhood, building, or unit based on a personal characteristic.
- Denial that the housing is available for rent, inspection, or sale to individuals with certain characteristics.
- Advertisements or published statements that indicate a preference, limitation, or discrimination.
- Utilizing different qualification criteria or applications for a rental or sale to individuals with certain personal characteristics.
- Harassment by the landlord.
- Sexual harassment by a landlord or other housing provider, including quid pro quo situations.
- Unlawful eviction by a landlord.
- Refusal to make reasonable accommodations for a disability.
- Delay or failure to perform maintenance or repairs due to a renter’s personal characteristics.
- Persuade or attempt to persuade homeowners to sell by suggesting people with a particular characteristic are going to move into the neighborhood with the intention of profiting.
If you are unsure of whether your circumstances are discrimination or not, consider examples published by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
What to do if you have suffered from discrimination
If you believe you were discriminated against when trying to rent a home or buy a house, contact a local housing law attorney. A lawyer can perform an analysis of your circumstances to determine if your situation is covered by the FHA and whether your claim is timely. If there is evidence of discrimination and you are still within the deadline to file a claim, a lawyer can explain your options, including filing a housing discrimination complaint with HUD or filing a complaint with your state’s housing agency.
Through a complaint, you may be able to obtain compensation and attorney’s fees. You also may ask for the landlord to stop performing certain actions.