Housing discrimination is when one person makes a housing decision based on a preference for, or bias against, another person because of a characteristic. It is illegal when the housing decision was made based on a preference for or bias against a person because of a protected characteristic, such as race or sex. The federal government and the laws of each state specify what characteristics should not form the basis of housing decisions.

What is the Fair Housing Act?

The Fair Housing Ace is the federal law in which the federal government regulates discrimination in housing through the federal Fair Housing Act. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is the federal agency that investigates housing discrimination claims and often enforces the Fair Housing Act. There are also many state agencies that enforce fair housing laws. Both have strict deadlines for filing a claim.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 outlaws discrimination on the basis of any of the following seven categories:

To Whom Does the Fair Housing Act Apply?

The Fair Housing Act applies to anyone who is providing housing:

  • Landlords
  • Sellers
  • Real estate brokers
  • Building contractors
  • Mortgage lenders and lending institutions
  • Appraisers
  • Real estate salespersons
  • Property managers

Single-family homes being sold or rented by the owner are likely not subject to these regulations. Senior citizen housing that fits into specific criteria may also be exempt from these regulations.

What Is Forbidden under the Fair Housing Act?

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits people from discriminating against others on the basis of race, creed, age, color, national origin, religion, sex, marital status, familial status (having children) or physical or mental disability. The Fair Housing Act prohibits a number of different discriminatory acts done by landlord or property owner, taken against an individual or group in these protected category, in the sale or rental of a dwelling. The following are prohibited acts: 

  • Refusal to rent or sell housing
  • Refusal to negotiate for housing
  • Denying a house because of a person’s protected group, religion, race, gender
  • Setting different conditions because of the person’s religion, race, gender, or other protected category
  • Refusing to allow reasonable modifications to a house if the person is disabled
  • Threaten or interfere with someone exercising their fair housing right

What Qualifies as a Physical or Mental Disability?

Many courts have found that physical and mental disability include past alcoholism and past drug addiction. So a landlord should not and cannot inquire about a potential tenant's prior drug or alcohol history. However, keep in mind that a landlord may ask questions about present drug use which would be a valid reason to deny .

How Can I Report a Housing Discrimination Violation?

To form the basis of a housing discrimination claim, individuals must prove:

  1. Membership in one of the protected groups (listed above).
  2. They applied to rent or purchase a certain property, and were qualified.
  3. They were rejected.
  4. The housing opportunity remained open after they were rejected.

After proving this and If you believe you have been discriminated against and there was a Fair Housing Act violation, you have to file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) online or by phone. After you file a complaint a HUD member will investigate your complaint and determine whether there was a violation of the Fair Housing Act. If a violation occurred, the case will go to a hearing in front of a HUD administrative judge. A housing specialist will dispute against the landlord who committed the violation on your behalf, so you do not need to hire an attorney for this procedure, unless you prefer to have.

Should I Consult with a Lawyer for My Housing Discrimination Issue?

There are strict state and federal deadlines that must be followed for a housing discrimination lawsuit. A real estate lawyer who specializes in discrimination suits can help you formulate a claim and help you comply with the court procedures. A lawyer can also help you gather the documentation needed to form the basis of a housing discrimination claim.