Landlords are prohibited from practicing rental discrimination when making choices about tenants and treatment of tenants. Landlords cannot legally consider race, color, ethnicity, religion, family status, age, sexual orientation, or sex as factors in business and renting decisions. This means it is illegal to make any advertisements that discuss personal characteristic preferences. They must be honest about availability and rental conditions with all potential tenants. Terms and conditions for the rental must be identical for all groups of people. Treatment of tenants, including late policies and late penalties, must be consistent across all tenants. Landlords also can’t end a lease or tenancy for reasons based on personal characteristics bias.

Other kinds of discrimination include sexual harassment, the refusal to make accommodations for disabled tenants, and permitting tenants to harass, threaten, or make discriminating comments against another tenant. A landlord can be held liable for discriminating acts made by employees, as well as for not stopping discriminating acts made by other tenants.

Which Laws Prohibit Rental Discrimination?

Prohibition of rental discrimination is mandated by the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 and its 1988 amendments. Today, antidiscrimination laws are enacted by an office called HUD, the Department of Housing and Urban Development. These laws can be found in the United States Code (42 USC Sec. 3601-3619, 3631).

Owners of private homes, senior housing, and certain housing units owned by private organizations such as religions or clubs can be exempt from the Fair Housing Act prohibitions.

Can a Plaintiff Collect Damages?

A plaintiff can certainly collect damages if he or she is able to prove discrimination. Discrimination charges must be filed with HUD within one year of the alleged incident of discrimination. HUD performs an investigatory search to find out whether or not the discrimination actually occurred. Sometimes HUD will attempt a reconciliation between the parties rather than proceed to a judicial hearing.

An administrative hearing will be held if this is unsuccessful. The point of the hearing is to determine if discrimination occurred. If a judge determines that it did, the judge can grant damages right away. Discrimination cases can also be tried in Federal District Court. There is a two year statute of limitations from the date of the alleged discrimination incident for this legal route.

A landlord is permitted to reject a tenant because of their poor credit history, low income, nonpayment of rent, previous bankruptcies, bad references, pet ownership, or criminal record. If the defendant can prove that the tenant was rejected because of these reasons, a discrimination complaint will not be successful.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you believe you have been discriminated against with housing because of a personal characteristic, you should speak with an attorney immediately. A lawyer can help you devise your best case and represent you during settlement negotiations and in court.