Real Estate & Property Law

Housing Discrimination

Housing discrimination occurs when a seller, landlord, lender, or real estate agent discriminates against a person in the sale, rental or financing of house, condo or apartment. Federal and state governments regulate housing discrimination under the Fair Housing Act and individual state anti-discrimination statutes.

The Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act prohibits property owners, financial institutions and landlords from discriminating against prospective tenants or buyers on the basis of race, religion, national origin, sex, family status or disability. Discrimination under the Fair Housing Act may take many different forms. Types of prohibited discrimination include:

  • Rental advertisements that request applicants of only a particular race or national origin.
  • Advising applicants that an available property is unavailable based on the applicant's race, religion, national origin, sex, family status or disability.
  • Applying and enforcing inconsistent rental policies based on a tenant's race, religion, national origin, sex, family status or disability.
  • Setting different terms and conditions for the sale or rental of a property.
  • Refusing to approve a loan, or imposing different rates and terms on a loan based on the above factors.
  • Refusing to accommodate the reasonable needs of disabled tenants or buyers, such as providing convenient parking or allowing a tenant to keep a service animal inside the property.
  • Asking a rental applicant or prospective buyer whether they have a disability or requesting to see a person's medical records.
  • Prohibiting disabled tenants from making reasonable modifications to a rental area at their own expense.

Individuals who feel that their rights under the Fair Housing Act have been violated are encouraged to file a complaint with the Fair Housing and Urban Development Agency (HUD). If HUD agrees that there has been a violation, the agency will appoint a mediator to help parties come to an agreement. If a settlement is reached and later breached, HUD may recommend that the Attorney General prosecute the offending party. If a settlement cannot be reached, the case may be heard in an administrative hearing.

Tenants and prospective buyers may also bring legal actions directly under the Fair Housing Act in state or federal court. If successful, individuals may recover damages, including the difference in rent between the disputed property and the plaintiff's current rental unit, as well as compensation for any emotional distress endured as a result of the discrimination. Injunctive relief, such as ordering that housing be made available to an individual, may also be ordered.

State Anti-Discrimination Statutes

The Fair Housing Act does not cover all types of discrimination or all forms of housing. For example, the Act does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of age, marital status or sexual orientation. Additionally, the Act does not cover some smaller apartment buildings, single family housing sold or rented without a broker, or housing operated by organizations that limit occupancy to their own members. Most states have enacted legislation that provides additional protection against housing discrimination. For example, fourteen states have enacted statutes prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Violations of state fair housing laws should be reported to the appropriate state agency.