Fair Housing

Several federal and state laws require that landlords provide fair housing to prospective renters. The policy of fair housing in the United States came from the anti-discrimination movements of the 1960s. Adequate housing is essential to a person’s ability to live comfortably and work hard. In order to contribute to society, people, regardless of their race, sex, national origin, family status, disability or religion must be able to live in safe housing.

Who Is Protected?

The U.S. government passed the Fair Housing Act in 1968. The Fair Housing Act, as amended through the years, now provides that a landlord can not refuse to rent a dwelling to an individual or family based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (including children under the age of 18 living with parents or legal custodians and, pregnant women) and disability. The Act does have a few exceptions. For example, housing for mature adults (those ages 55 and older) may prevent families with children from living in the units if the housing meets certain requirements. Also, owner occupied dwellings that have 3 or fewer rental spaces in the dwelling may also be exempt in certain circumstances.

What Are People Protected From?

The Fair Housing Act protects the classes of people described above from the following:

  • The landlord may not refuse to rent a dwelling because they are in one of the protected groups of people;
  • The landlord may not set different terms, different rent amounts or different rental conditions based on their inclusion in one of the protected groups;
  • The landlord may not threaten nor intimidate anybody because of their inclusion in a protected group;
  • The landlord may not advertise discriminatory housing;
  • The landlord may not prevent a person with a disability that substantially limits a major life activity from making reasonable accommodations to the rental unit if the accommodations are necessary for the person to use the housing. Further, the landlord must make reasonable accommodations in policies and procedures for a person with disabilities. For example, a landlord would likely be required to allow a guide dog for a blind person even in an apartment building with a no pets policy. Likewise, a landlord would likely be required to provide handicapped parking spots near the building entrance if the building already includes a parking lot.

What Should a Person Do If S/he Has Been Discriminated Against?

People who allege that they have been discriminated against in violation of the Fair Housing Act can file a complaint with the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) which is part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or they can pursue their claim in Federal District Court. The U.S. Attorney General’s office can also file a lawsuit if there is reasonable cause to believe that a landlord has a pattern or practice of discrimination.

HUD is also able to provide technical assistance to landlords and to answer inquiries from concerned renters. The goal of the Act is quite simple. Nobody who can abide by the lawful policies and procedures of the dwelling and who is able to pay the rent should be denied housing because of their inclusion in a protected class of people.

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