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Housing Discrimination

Welcome to the Housing Discrimination section of FindLaw's Civil Rights Center. Read on for practical and historical information about federal fair housing laws.

Fair housing means no one should suffer unequal treatment in housing decisions based on a protected characteristic. To treat others this way is to engage in housing discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act. 

This section contains information on:

  • Discrimination
  • Fair housing rights for home buyers and renters (tenants)
  • What to do if you are unlawfully denied housing

What Is Housing Discrimination?

To discriminate is to treat someone in a different and adverse manner. For example, housing providers may not exclude prospective tenants because they are African-American. To do so would constitute housing discrimination. These protections also extend to home buyers and mortgage loan applicants. 

Discrimination against housing applicants can be difficult to prove. You'll need evidence pointing to a landlord or real estate agent's intent. This is similar to charges of discrimination against job applicants.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Familial status
  • Disability

This also applies to perceptions of such characteristics. For example, say a landlord refuses to rent to an applicant that they believe is Muslim. The landlord has violated federal law even if the applicant is not Muslim.

Types of Discriminatory Acts Prohibited by the Fair Housing Act

There are many ways a landlord, real estate agent, mortgage lender, or other involved party may discriminate against applicants, tenants, or homeowners. If you are part of a protected group, you may be able to file a claim for discrimination if a party committed any of the following acts against your interests:

  • Refusal to rent or sell housing
  • Refusal to negotiate housing
  • Making housing unavailable to certain applicants
  • Offering different terms or conditions to different applicants
  • Persuading others to sell or rent their property for a profit

In addition, lenders and financial institutions may not commit the following acts in a discriminatory manner:

  • Refusal to make a loan
  • Refusal to provide information about a loan
  • Unfair mortgage lending
  • Imposing different rates for different applicants regardless of credit score and other tangible factors
  • Discrimination in appraisal or valuation

Those with physical or mental disabilities also have certain rights and protections. For instance, landlords must make reasonable modifications to a property for disabled tenants. Public and common areas, such as the laundry room, must be accessible to persons with disabilities in addition to handicap-accessible routes and parking spaces.

Fair Housing and the U.S. Supreme Court

As with many other areas of the law, fair housing laws are shaped by decisions made at the Supreme Court. Some of the most prominent among these include:

  • Shelley v. Kraemer (1948): This landmark case addressed the issue of racially restrictive covenants in property deeds. The Supreme Court ruled that these covenants, which were agreements among property owners not to sell or rent to certain racial or ethnic groups, are unenforceable. While the decision did not directly strike down the covenants, it held that state courts could not enforce them, marking an important step toward dismantling racially discriminatory housing practices.
  • Jones v. Mayer Co. (1968): In this case, the Supreme Court declared that federal law prohibits racial discrimination in the private or public sale or rental of property. This decision reinforced the broader commitment to eliminating racial discrimination in housing and further established the federal government's authority to intervene in cases of housing discrimination.
  • Village of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp. (1977): This case set a precedent regarding the burden of proof in claims of racial discrimination in land zoning decisions. The Supreme Court ruled that when filing a claim of racial discrimination in a land zoning decision, the plaintiff must show proof of intent. This means that individuals alleging discrimination need to provide evidence that the actions taken were both intentional and discriminatory, adding a layer of complexity to proving such cases but also ensuring a more thorough examination of the circumstances.

These Supreme Court decisions played pivotal roles in shaping and interpreting fair housing laws in the United States. They not only addressed specific issues related to housing discrimination but also contributed to the broader evolution of civil rights law, emphasizing the prohibition of discriminatory practices in housing transactions.

Note that these cases laid the groundwork for subsequent legislative actions, such as amendments to the Fair Housing Act, which further strengthened protections against housing discrimination based on protected classes like:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Familial status
  • Disability

The interplay between judicial decisions and legislative measures continues to shape the landscape of fair housing in the United States.

HUD's Role in Promoting Fair Housing

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) plays a crucial role in upholding fair housing practices in the U.S. As the primary federal agency overseeing housing and urban development initiatives, HUD is dedicated to ensuring that every individual has equal access to housing opportunities, free from discrimination based on protected characteristics.

HUD's Mandate and Enforcement

HUD administers and enforces the Fair Housing Act, a landmark piece of legislation that prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. Through its Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO), HUD investigates and addresses complaints of housing discrimination, working to eliminate barriers to fair housing and promote inclusive communities.

Providing Resources and Education

In addition to enforcement efforts, HUD serves as a valuable resource for individuals seeking information about fair housing rights and responsibilities. The department offers educational materials, guidance documents, and outreach programs to raise awareness about fair housing laws. 

Through collaborations with community organizations, HUD strives to empower individuals with the knowledge they need to recognize and combat housing discrimination.

Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP)

HUD's Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP) supports a range of initiatives aimed at eradicating housing discrimination. This includes funding for local organizations that work to educate the public, investigate complaints, and promote fair housing practices at the grassroots level. FHIP plays a crucial role in fostering partnerships between HUD and local communities to advance the goals of fair housing.

Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH)

HUD is committed to the concept of Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH), which involves taking proactive steps to address historical patterns of segregation and promote inclusive housing practices. Through policy development and collaboration with local jurisdictions, HUD seeks to create communities that provide equal housing opportunities for all, regardless of background or characteristics.

HUD's Commitment to Accessibility

Recognizing the importance of accessible housing for persons with disabilities, HUD has established guidelines and standards to ensure that federally-funded housing is designed and constructed with accessibility in mind. This commitment extends to public and common areas, reinforcing the principle that everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy a safe and accessible home.

HUD stands as a key advocate for fair housing practices, working to eliminate discrimination, educate the public, and create a housing landscape that reflects the principles of equality and inclusivity. Through its multifaceted approach, HUD contributes to the ongoing progress toward achieving fair and equitable housing opportunities for all Americans.

You Deserve Equal Opportunity When It Comes To Housing – Get a Lawyer's Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and file a housing complaint. Visit FindLaw's attorney directory to find a real estate lawyer who can advise you.

Learn About Housing Discrimination

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

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