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Understanding Your Rights: Housing Discrimination

Discrimination is, unfortunately, pervasive in our society. One type of discrimination with considerable media attention involves housing availability and opportunities. How does this occur? Do you know where to turn if it happens to you? Use this list to keep track of possible incidents of housing discrimination.

What federal laws govern housing discrimination?

The Fair Housing Act (FHA), Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, is the predominant housing law.

Who is protected under the Fair Housing Act?

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on several bases. Do they apply to you?







National origin









Familial status



Handicap or disability



What does "familial status" mean?

Familial status means the makeup of your family. The FHA prohibits discrimination on this basis including: children under the age of 18 living with parents/guardians, pregnant women, and people seeking custody of children under 18. For example, Landlord cannot refuse to rent to you if you reveal your pregnancy unless Landlord has another, legitimate reason.

What type of housing is covered by the Fair Housing Act?

The FHA covers homes, apartments, and townhouses which are for sale or for rent, with some exceptions. For example, the owner of a small rental building, who also resides there, may not have to comply.

What type of acts are prohibited?

The FHA prohibits a number of discriminatory acts, taken against an individual or group in a protected category. Are you in a protected group and experiencing any of the following?

Refusal to rent or sell housing? __Y __N
Refusal to negotiate for housing? __Y __N
Making housing unavailable? __Y __N
Denying a dwelling? __Y __N
Setting different terms, conditions, or privileges for the sale or rental of a dwelling? __Y __N
Falsely denying that a dwelling is available for sale or rental? __Y __N
Persuading others, for a profit, to sell or rent their property? __Y __N

Special prohibitions apply to mortgage lending. No one may take action based upon a person's membership in a protected category in several situations. Do any apply to you?

Refusal to make a mortgage loan? __Y __N
Refusal to provide information about loans? __Y __N
Imposing different rates or terms on a loan? __Y __N
Discrimination in the appraisal or valuation of real property? __Y __N
Refusal to purchase a loan? __Y __N
Setting different terms or conditions for purchasing a loan? __Y __N

Special protection exists for individuals with a disabilitiy which substantially limits one or more major life activities, who have in the past had such a disability, or who are regarded as having such a disability. Are you or a member of your family disabled? If so, has a landlord acted in any of the following ways toward you?

Refused to allow reasonable modifications to the dwelling or
common-use areas if necessary for the person to use the housing?
__Y __N
Refused to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies,
practices, or services if necessary for the disabled person to
use the housing?
__Y __N

Failed to comply with new construction requirements in all buildings first ready for occupancy after March 13, 1991, that have an elevator and four or more units? These buildings must:

Have public and common areas that are accessible to persons with disabilities; __Y __N
Have doors and hallways that are wide enough for wheelchairs; and __Y __N
Have units with handicap-accessible routes, accessible light
switches, electrical outlets, reinforced bathroom walls which
allow for installation of grab-rails, and wheelchair-accessible kitchens.
__Y __N

There are general prohibitions under the Fair Housing Act which make certain acts illegal. Have these illegal actions happened to you?

Threaten, coerce, intimidate, or interfere with anyone
exercising a fair housing right or assisting others in exercising that right.
__Y __N
Advertise or make any other type of statement which indicates a limitation or preference for purchasers or renters on the basis of their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or handicap. __Y __N

How can I report a violation of the Fair Housing Act?

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is responsible for receiving complaints under the FHA. You may write or telephone HUD, or you can download a fair housing complaint form from the HUD website.

Toll-free number: 1-800-669-9777
TTY phone for the hearing impaired: 1-800-927-9275


Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Department of Housing and Urban Development Room 5204 451 Seventh St. SW
Washington, DC 20410-2000

What should I tell HUD?

Provide HUD with your name and address, the name and address of the person you are bringing the complaint against, the address or location of the dwelling involved, the date the alleged violation occurred, and a brief description of the alleged violation.

What will HUD do with my complaint?

After you submit a complaint, HUD will send you notification that it was received and will usually also notify the person you are complaining against. HUD will investigate your claim in order to determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe that a violation occurred.

What if I need help right away, and can't wait for an investigation?

In some serious situations, you may need immediate help. In that case, as soon as it receives your complaint, HUD may be able to ask the U.S. Attorney General to seek immediate temporary relief to protect your interests.

How will my complaint be resolved?

If HUD believes a violation has occurred, HUD will try to reach an agreement, or conciliation, with the object of your complaint. If an agreement is reached, and HUD has reasonable cause to believe that it is thereafter broken, they will recommend to the U.S. Attorney General that a suit be filed on your behalf.

Do I get a hearing?

If HUD's investigation finds reasonable cause to believe that discrimination has occurred, you are entitled to an administrative hearing unless your complaint has already been resolved through conciliation; if you or the party you are complaining about choose, the case can be heard in federal district court instead. Administrative hearings are typically less formal and often speedier than federal court proceedings.

Do I have to pay to have my case go to hearing or trial?

No. Whether you receive an administrative hearing or your case goes to trial in a federal court, you do not have to pay. At an administrative hearing, HUD attorneys will handle the case on your behalf, at the expense of the government. If you or the other party choose to go to federal court, the Attorney General will file suit on your behalf. You may hire your own attorney to represent you, but you will have to pay for that service.

What type of damages can I receive?

If it is found that the FHA has been violated, you may be compensated for your actual damages, including pain and suffering or humiliation. Additionally, the administrative law judge presiding over your hearing or the judge presiding over your court case may be able to force the other party to make the housing available to you. Finally, the person who discriminated against you may be required to pay a civil penalty to the federal government for violating the Act.

How does the Fair Housing Act relate to state housing laws?

Your state may have a fair housing law which mirrors, or creates greater protections than, the federal FHA. In that case, if you file a complaint with HUD, it will be forwarded to your state fair housing authority for handling. If your state authority does not begin investigating your claim within thirty days, HUD may ask for the complaint to be returned to it for handling.

Get Legal Assistance from an Attorney

Our homes can be a refuge from the harsh realities of the world. Unfortunately, the comforts of home are damaged when housing discrimination occurs. Have you been denied a mortgage or received unfair terms based on your religion? Were you denied housing due to your disability? If you have been unfairly treated and you are a member of one of the protected groups, then you could have a claim for housing discrimination. If you suspect that you are a victim of housing discrimination, you should contact an attorney who knows about discrimination issues.

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