The Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968, soon after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Act is enforced by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), as well as through private lawsuits filed by individuals. When violations of the Act are established, available remedies can include damages to victims of discrimination, orders compelling changes in policies and practices and/or penalties paid to the government.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination by direct providers of housing, such as landlords and real estate companies as well as other entities, such as municipalities, banks or other lending institutions and homeowners insurance companies whose discriminatory practices make housing unavailable to persons because of:
Race or Color | back to top
The Fair Housing Act was enacted primarily to combat racial discrimination in the sales and rental of housing. Discrimination can include “steering” home seekers to certain areas based on race. O
Religion | back to top
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on religion. This includes discrimination against members of a particular religion (ex. “No Muslims”), or preferences for practitioners of one religion over others (ex. “Christians preferred”).
Sex/Gender | back to top
The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate in housing on the basis of gender. This prohibition includes sexual harassment.
National Origin | back to top
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on “national origin,” which refers to an individual’s country of birth or ancestry. Housing providers must provide equal opportunities to all prospective buyers or renters, whether or not they speak English or are United States citizens. Housing providers may lawfully require valid identification, but it is inappropriate and illegal to ask for a Permanent Resident Card (“Green Card”).
Familial Status | back to top
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing against families with children under the age of 18. The Act also prevents housing providers from imposing special requirements or conditions on tenants with custody of children. Property owners may not place all families with children in one area of an apartment property, or unreasonably limit access to recreational services made available to other tenants. Additionally, owners may not unreasonably limit the total number of people living in a house or apartment.
In most cases, the Act prohibits a housing provider from refusing to rent or sell to families with children. Facilities designated as Housing for Older Persons (aged 55 or 62 and older) that meet standards set out in the Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995 are permitted to operate as senior only housing.
Disability | back to top
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in both the rental and sale of housing. Persons with a disability are defined as individuals with physical or mental impairments that substantially limit one or more major life activities. Major life activities may include but are not limited to, seeing, hearing, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, caring for one’s self, learning, speaking or working.
Covered mental and physical impairments may include, but are not limited to, blindness, hearing impairment, mobility impairment, HIV infection, asthma, mental retardation, a history of alcoholism or drug addiction, chronic fatigue, learning disability, head injury and mental illness. The Fair Housing Act also protects persons who have a record of such impairment or are regarded as having such an impairment. Current users of controlled substances, persons convicted of the illegal manufacture or distribution of a controlled substance, sex offenders, and juvenile offenders are not considered disabled under the Fair Housing Act because of that status.
- Reasonable Accommodations
Housing providers are required by the Fair Housing Act to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services when they are essential to affording a person with a disability the equal opportunity to enjoy a dwelling, (including common and public use areas). Examples of reasonable accommodations include: providing an exception to a “no pets” policy to a disabled tenant with a service animal; making an exception to a policy of not providing a reserved parking space for a tenant with a wheelchair; providing a first floor apartment to a tenant who cannot walk up stairs.
- New Construction
Discrimination in housing against people with disabilities includes the failure to design and construct most new multi-family dwellings (apartment complexes and condominiums) so that they are accessible to and usable by the disabled, particularly those individuals who use wheelchairs. The Fair Housing Act requires that all newly constructed multi-family dwellings of four or more units built after 1991 have certain features: accessible entrances on an accessible route, accessible common and public use areas, doors wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs, accessible routes into and through each dwelling, light switches, electrical outlets and thermostats in accessible locations, reinforcements in bathroom walls to accommodate grab bar installations, and usable kitchens and bathrooms configured so that a wheelchair can maneuver through the space. Builders, developers, architects and owners can be held liable if their buildings fail to meet these design requirements. Fair Housing First provides detailed technical guidance to builders to assure compliance with the Fair Housing Act.