Landlords are generally only allowed to deny housing to a potential tenant on the basis of legitimate business reasons. Some of the most common examples of what would constitute a legitimate business reason include:

  • Credit history or lack thereof;
  • Income, or lack thereof;
  • Negative or nonexistent references from past landlords; and
  • Worrisome past behavior, such as damaging property.

Housing discrimination specifically refers to a person being denied housing due to their membership to a protected class, and not for any legitimate business reasons. Protected classes include, but may not be limited to:

  • Race;
  • National origin;
  • Color;
  • Religion;
  • Sex;
  • Gender;
  • Age;
  • Disability, whether physical or mental; and
  • Pregnancy.

There both are state and federal laws in place that make it illegal to deny someone housing based solely on the above mentioned characteristics. Biased treatment is considered to be unlawful during housing related activities, such as renting, buying, and lending. Additionally, it is prohibited to select tenants based on their familial status. An example of this would be having children, or the tenant’s marital status.

Some of the most common examples of housing discrimination include:

  • A landlord requiring that an interracial couple utilize application criteria that is more burdensome than what is required of other applicants;
  • A bank refusing to provide loan information to a person based solely on their belonging to a protected class;
  • When a real estate broker who is acting on behalf of a contractor publishes the availability of a newly built housing complex as being for white tenants only. Under these circumstances, both the broker and the contractor would be engaging in discriminatory behavior;
  • When a landlord advertises an apartment for sale or rent and confirms with an inquiring couple, on the phone, that the unit is available. However, when the couple arrives to the unit thirty minutes later and the landlord sees that the couple is interracial, they are told that the unit has since been given to someone else; and
  • A potential renter wearing clothing that is associated with a particular religion visits a leasing office in which it is clearly stated that there are units available, only to be told that the signage is incorrect and there are no units available.

What Is The Fair Housing Act?

As part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination associated with the sale, rental, and/or financing of dwellings. This protection extends to other housing related activities, including the dissemination of false information regarding the availability of housing.

Examples of dissemination of false information would include incorrectly stating that there are no units available, or suggesting that people who are looking to buy in one area instead buy in another area solely based on their race. Upon the passing of the Act, its central objective was to prohibit race discrimination in the sales and renting of housing. However, it has since extended to cover all protected classes.

The FHA applies to the following circumstances:

  • Selling or renting real estate;
  • Advertising real estate;
  • Providing financial assistance for the buyers or renters of real estate;
  • Brokering or appraising real estate;
  • Participating in real estate organizations;
  • Intimidating, coercing, or threatening others associated with their purchase or rental; and
  • Interfering with a person’s right of enjoyment and use of housing rights based solely on discriminatory reasons.

Additionally, the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) makes it illegal to:

  • Engage in mortgage lending discrimination;
  • Harass people based on their protected class;
  • Interfere with anyone who is exercising their FHA rights; and
  • Retaliate against someone who has filed a fair housing complaint, or assists in the investigation of a fair housing discrimination complaint.

It is important to note that there are four significant exceptions to the Fair Housing Act:

  1. Single family homes, as long as:
    • The home is also rented or sold by the owner;
    • The owner does not own more than three homes at one time;
    • The advertising for the sale or rental was not discriminatory; and
    • The owner did not use a real estate or broker
  2. Rooms or units in a building with a maximum of four units, as long as the owner is living in one of those units;
  3. Rooms or units that are owned either directly or indirectly by a religious organization. However, this is true only if preference is only given on the basis of that membership, and membership in that religion is not restricted by race, color, or nationality; and
  4. Rooms or units that are owned by a private organization for non-commercial use, as long as preference is only given on the basis of membership to that organization and is not restricted by race, color, and/or nationality.

What Is Blockbusting?

Blockbusting generally occurs in multi-racial neighborhoods, or in neighborhoods that are undergoing change associated with the makeup of who lives there. More specifically, blockbusting is when a real estate agent tries to coerce people into selling their homes by playing upon the fear that they will lose money on their property if they do not sell soon.

Another way of putting it is that blockbusting occurs when real estate agents attempt to increase their sales and profit by suggesting that people leave their neighborhoods before property values decrease. They may base their statements about these declining values on the race, ethnicity, or economic class of some of the people living in the neighborhood.

Some of the most common examples of blockbusting include:

  • When real estate agents alert the members of a neighborhood that it is “changing,” and that they should sell their property;
  • Making house-by-house telephone calls urging members of a neighborhood that they should sell before their property values decrease; and
  • Spreading rumors by real estate agents that property values are on the decline in a specific area only because people of a certain race or ethnicity are moving there.

In order to be successful in an action for blockbusting, you must satisfy and prove the following three elements:

  • The statements that were made to you were intended to be profitable for the person making them;
  • The statements were made in order to induce the sale of your property; and
  • The statements lead you to believe that a certain class of people were moving into the neighborhood, and that your property values would decrease if you did not sell as soon as possible because of that class of people moving into the neighborhood.

What Should I Do If I Am Facing Housing Discrimination?

If you have been discriminated against, it is imperative that you file a complaint with the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (“FHEO”), which is part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”). Your complaint should include the facts which prove why you believe you were violated, as well as any examples of other discrimination.

The complaint will be reviewed by the HUD and may require a response from the accused party before the FHEO conducts an investigation. After this, they will determine whether there is enough evidence to establish that a violation did occur.

Such complaints must be filed within one year of the last date of the alleged discrimination. Following an investigation, the FHEO will issue its findings in terms of whether there is a reasonable cause to find a violation has occurred. If the investigation does find cause, the HUD or the Department of Justice will take legal action against the violator.

Do I Need A Lawyer For Help With Blockbusting?

Real estate and property laws are a considerably complex area of law. If you believe you have been subjected to discriminatory and/or improper practices by a real estate agent, a real estate attorney can help you prove your case.

Your lawyer will also help you understand your legal rights and options according to your state’s specific laws, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.