LGBTQ individuals and couples that try to buy or rent a home often face obstacles and discrimination. Sometimes discrimination in this context is not obvious. For example, you might be told that your lease has ended prematurely or be given an eviction notice for no evident reason or told your rental application was denied.
There is no comprehensive federal law prohibiting housing discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. Some limited options for addressing this kind of discrimination are available, particularly in connection with public housing, but whether you can obtain some form of redress depends on where you live, the nature of your lease if you are a renter, and certain other factors.
Public Housing and the Fair Housing Act
The federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) protects against discrimination based on color, race, national origin, sex, religion, disability and familial status, but it doesn’t include sexual orientation or gender identity as a protected class. Since HIV disproportionately affects the LGBTQ community, it is important to note that those with HIV are protected under FHA because they are considered to have a disability.
The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administers the FHA and is supposed to ensure equal access to publicly funded housing. Like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in connection with Title VII, HUD has issued a new policy that states the gender identity discrimination is a type of gender or sex discrimination, which is explicitly outlawed.
HUD intends to conduct a study of discrimination against the LGBTQ community, and any such discrimination will be investigated or referred to state or local governments with non-discrimination protections in place for the LGBTQ community. The agency has also published a rule (the Equal Access to Housing in HUD Programs Regardless of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity) and guidance, which prohibits inquiries regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. It also requires those participating in HUD programs or receiving HUD grants, including both housing providers and lenders, to comply with any state or local non-discrimination laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. However, discrimination continues among many landlords, sellers, and insurers not participating in HUD programs.
If you believe you’ve been subject to housing discrimination in connection with public housing, you can contact the HUD Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity either by phone or online. HUD investigates these allegations to determine if there has been a violation. Violations can result in a HUD determination that an owner has failed to comply with requirements of the program and impose sanctions or other remedies.
State and Local Laws
Less than 25 states have laws that expressly include gender identity and sexual orientation as prohibited bases for discrimination. Some, such as Wisconsin, New York, and New Hampshire, include a prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but not gender identity. There are also some city ordinances and county laws that specifically address LGBTQ discrimination. For example, Seattle, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and New York City prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation. Hit particularly hard by the lack of civil rights laws in this context are LGBTQ elders. A state or local human rights agency may be able to advise you whether you are covered under state or local laws with regard to housing discrimination.