Tenants and Fair Housing
Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 of the Fair Housing Act bans housing discrimination based on protected characteristics in the rental, sale, or financing of housing. This act aims to ensure all Americans have an equal opportunity to get housing.
While housing providers have the right to screen tenants, they cannot deny a renter for discriminatory reasons. For example, you can ask for proof of income, such as a W2 or a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) letter. You cannot deny a rental application if the potential tenant uses a voucher as a source of income. Asking a prospective tenant to pay a higher security deposit may invite scrutiny if the prospective tenant is a protected class member.
This article explores fair housing laws, fair housing law violations, and possible remedies.
Fair Housing Laws
Fair housing laws offer prospective tenants protection against discrimination based on protected characteristics. State and local ordinances often include fair housing or anti-discrimination laws.
Federal law offers some exclusions. Religious organizations can limit their rental of housing to members of that religion. This exclusion applies to noncommercial housing. Property managers for housing for older persons can refuse to rent to families with children.
Certain classes of people have historically been denied housing in America based on their membership in a protected class.
Protected classes include the following:
- Sex (this includes sexual orientation and gender identity)
- National origin
- Familial status
Fair housing laws apply to homeowner-landlords, realtors, real estate agents, and mortgage lenders. These laws cover almost everyone connected to a property's sale, rental, or financing.
Discriminatory Practices In Housing
The Fair Housing Act bans landlords from engaging in certain discriminatory practices.
These practices include the following:
- Setting different rules for individual tenants
- Refusing reasonable modifications for disabled tenants
- Advertisements that suggest the apartment is only available to select group
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, housing providers must make reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities. This includes allowing tenants to make reasonable modifications to the rental unit, such as installing grab bars in the bathroom. Physical or mental impairment is not a barrier to equal opportunity in housing.
Fair Housing Violations and Remedies
Anyone who has experienced a violation of their fair housing rights can file a discrimination complaint. A landlord or property manager cannot threaten eviction against the complainant.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) enforces the federal Fair Housing Act and other federal fair housing laws. After getting the fair housing complaint, HUD investigates the complaint. HUD will determine if a fair housing violation exists. If it does, HUD issues a Determination of Reasonable Cause and a Charge of Discrimination. The complainants and the respondents then have 20 days to decide where to try the case. They can choose a HUD Administrative Law Judge or a Federal District Court Judge.
Remedies available to HUD include the following:
- Compensation for actual damages
- Punitive damages (to deter future discriminatory behavior)
- Equitable relief (includes orders granting housing to the complainant)
- Permanent injunctions (such as an order prohibiting future discriminatory behavior)
- Attorneys fees
Fair Housing law is complex. It includes federal, state, and local laws. An experienced, local landlord-tenant attorney can provide sound legal advice. They can also help you navigate landlord-tenant laws. Speak to an experienced landlord-tenant attorney near you today.
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