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Tenants and Fair Housing

Landlords have wide discretion when picking new tenants. However, there are certain restrictions. When making a decision, landlords may use criteria such as criminal history, credit rating, and financial stability.

For example, a landlord has a right to ask for proof of income, such as paystubs or W2 statements. The landlord may refuse to lease to someone who will not provide such information.

On the other hand, factors such as a potential tenant's race or gender, may not be taken into consideration. A landlord may not refuse to lease to someone because they will not provide this information, or based on this information.

Activities Prohibited Under the Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discriminatory practices in housing. Under the Act, landlords may not discriminate against tenants or potential tenants on the basis of race, gender, religion, familial status, disability, or ethnicity. The actions covered under the Act include:

  • Deciding whether to rent an apartment to a potential tenant,
  • Setting particular rules for individual tenants, and
  • Advertising that the apartment is only available to certain people.

Landlords are also required to make reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities. That can include giving lower level units to tenants in wheelchairs and installing ramps on doorways. However, if the landlord owns an older building and accommodating a tenant with a disability would require a major remodel, the landlord is usually not required to add the accommodations.

What to Do if You See a Fair Housing Violation

If you believe you or a loved one has been the victim of a Fair Housing Act violation, you can file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) online or by phone. Someone within HUD will investigate your complaint and determine whether the facts listed are indeed a violation of the Fair Housing Act. If so, the case will be scheduled for a hearing in front of a HUD administrative judge. A housing specialist will argue against the landlord on your behalf, so you do not need to hire an attorney for this procedure, unless you want one.

HUD will assess fines against landlords who violate the Fair Housing Act in the following amounts:

  • $16,000 for first time violators,
  • $37,500 if the landlord has violated the Fair Housing Act before the current complaint, and
  • $65,000 if the landlord has violated the Fair Housing Act two or more time before the current complaint.

For more information, see FindLaw's sections on Tenant Rights and Fair Housing.

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