The Fair Housing Act is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. It was passed by Congress just days after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, or financing of dwellings and in other housing-related activities on the basis of race, sex, disability, color, religion, familial status, or national origin.
The objective of Fair Housing is to eliminate discriminatory practices in the realm of real estate, whether renting or buying. When it was passed during 1968, its central objective was to prohibit race discrimination in the sales and rental of housing.
This includes prohibiting the dissemination of false information about availability of housing, such as improperly stating that nothing is available or steering people who are looking to buy into certain neighborhoods based on race. It has since evolved to try to eliminate discrimination based on disability, religion, and familiar status.
The Fair Housing Act applies in the following circumstances:
- Selling or renting real estate;
- Advertising real estate encouraging or discouraging specific people from living in a specific neighborhood, known as steering;
- Providing financial assistance for buyers or renters of real estate;
- Brokering or appraising real estate;
- Participating in real estate organizations;
- Intimidating, coercing or threatening others with regard to their purchase, rental, or real property; and
- Interfering with a person’s right of enjoyment and use of housing rights based on a discriminatory reason.
People who believe they have been victims of an illegal housing practice can file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or file a civil lawsuit in federal or state court.
Anyone can file a complaint with HUD at no cost. They can be filed by telephone, mail, or via the internet. After HUD receives the initial information, an intake specialist will contact the person who filed the complaint to conduct an interview.
HUD may then require the alleged fair housing violator to submit an answer to the formal complaint and investigate the complaint further. HUD will either determine whether they have found enough evidence of a fair housing violation or make a no cause determination, which the complainant can contest by filing a civil lawsuit.
Yes, there are four important exceptions to the Fair Housing Act:
- Single family homes, as long as the home is also rented or sold by the owner, the owner does not own more than 3 such homes at a time, the advertising for the sale or rental was not discriminatory, and the owner did not use a real estate agent or broker.
- Rooms or units in a building with a maximum or four units, as long as the owner lives in of the units.
- Rooms or units owned directly or indirectly by a religious organization, as long as preference is only given on the basis of that membership, and membership in that religion is not restricted by race, color or nationality.
- Rooms or units owned by a private organization for non-commercial use, as long as preference is only given on the basis of membership, and membership in that organization is not restricted by race, color or nationality.
If you are a landlord or owner concerned about conforming to the Fair Housing Act’s numerous provisions, it would be helpful to speak to a local real estate attorney. A real estate lawyer also can advise you about state and local housing discrimination laws, which can be equally complex.