What is the Fair Housing Act?

Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (Fair Housing Act), as amended, prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, and in other housing-related transactions, because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, and disability. It also requires that all federal programs relating to housing and urban development be administered in a manner that affirmatively furthers fair housing. 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601-19

Who is protected by fair housing laws?

There are seven “protected classes” under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA):

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Gender
  • Disability; or
  • Familial status (presence of children under the age of 18, including adoptive and foster kids, and pregnancy).

Additionally, many states and local municipal governments extend the protections afforded by the Fair Housing Act, and may offer a variety of additional protections for other classes of people who often discrimination in the community. Some common additional protected classes are:

  • Ancestry
  • Marital status
  • Age (over 40)
  • Source of income/Public assistance recipient status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity/Gender expression
  •  Military Service/Dishonorable Discharge; or
  • Domestic Violence/Order of Protection Status

Additional protected classes vary widely even within a state. Therefore, it is important for housing providers to educate themselves about applicable Fair Housing law in their particular jurisdiction. Click here to learn more about federal fair housing laws.

What Housing Is Covered by Fair Housing Laws?

Fair housing laws cover most housing, including apartments, single-family homes, condominiums, manufactured homes, and others. In some circumstances, the laws exempt owner-occupied buildings with no more than two/four units, single-family housing sold or rented without the use of a broker, and housing operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members.

Which Housing Providers are Subject to Fair Housing Laws?

The Fair Housing Act itself does not limit who can sued for discriminatory housing practices.

  • Real estate operators, brokers, and agents
  • Multiple listing services/real estate related organizations
  • Builders, contractors, and developers
  • Owners of building lots
  • Condominium associations
  • Homeowners advertising and selling their homes
  • Savings & Loans associations, banks, mortgage brokers, other financial institutions and appraisers
  • Owners of investment properties
  • Rental managers/leasing agents
  • Advertising media, advertising agencies and marketing companies
  • Insurance companies who sell homeowners or renters insurance
  • Municipalities

What Is Prohibited?

With regard to the sale and rental of housing, it is unlawful to:

  • Refuse to rent or sell housing;
  • Refuse to negotiate for housing;
  • Make housing unavailable;
  • Deny a dwelling;
  • Set different terms, conditions or privileges for sale or rental of a dwelling;
  • Provide different housing services or facilities;
  • Falsely deny that housing is available for inspection, sale, or rental;
  • For profit, persuade owners to sell or rent (blockbusting); or
  • Deny anyone access to or membership in a facility or service (such as a multiple listing service) related to the sale or rental of housing.

With regard to mortgage lending, it is unlawful to:

  • Refuse to make a mortgage loan;
  • Refuse to provide information regarding loans;
  • Impose different terms or conditions on a loan, such as different interest rates, points, or fees;
  •  Discriminate in appraising property;
  • Refuse to purchase a loan; or
  • Set different terms or conditions for purchasing a loan.

In addition, it is unlawful for anyone to:

  • Threaten, coerce, intimidate or interfere with anyone exercising a fair housing right or assisting others who exercise that right, or
  • Advertise or make any statement that indicates a limitation or preference based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or handicap.

The prohibition against discriminatory advertising applies to single-family and owner-occupied housing that is otherwise exempt from the Fair Housing Act.

Attorneys who specialize in housing and construction law: Joshua M. Schindler, Kalila Jackson, Brian P. Doty

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