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Definition, Examples, How to Report It


  • Housing discrimination is the illegal practice of mistreating someone looking to rent or buy a house based on race, national origin, religion, sex, gender identity, or other protected classes.
  • The Fair Housing Act, which was passed in 1968, prohibits a broad range of discriminatory behaviors in housing.
  • Individuals who believe their fair housing rights have been violated can contact HUD or their local housing agency.

Everyone needs a place to live. But historically, many groups have had trouble accessing shelter in the US because of discriminatory practices.

Though housing discrimination is illegal today, it still happens. By understanding how housing discrimination works and what your rights are, you’ll be in a better position to speak up and fight back if you find yourself a victim of it.

What is housing discrimination?

Housing discrimination occurs when an individual is denied access to housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, familial status, or disability.

This doesn’t just include instances where a landlord refuses to rent to certain groups or a bank only lends mortgages in certain neighborhoods. Things like setting different rent prices for different people, making


appraisal

decisions based on a homeowner’s race, or just generally making it harder for protected groups to find and maintain housing are all forms of housing discrimination.

“For too many and for too long, housing discrimination has been the barrier to individuals’ and families’ chances to live in an accessible home where they feel safe, secure and in neighborhoods where they believe they can best thrive,” says Demetria McCain, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “The stain of housing discrimination in our country has inhibited equal opportunity and the chance to build wealth as well as segregated neighborhoods forcing large numbers of families to live in areas not of their choosing.”

Which agency handles housing discrimination?

HUD is the federal agency that handles reports of housing discrimination, but your state may also have a department that you can report discrimination to. You may even be able to get assistance from your local government.

Here’s where you can report housing discrimination in each state:

 *Does not have state-associated fair housing assistance

What laws ban discrimination in housing?

Housing discrimination is illegal federally, but many states and localities also have their own laws that reinforce or strengthen federal discrimination protections.

The Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968. It was enacted just 7 days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The act had already been considered by Congress in 1966 and 1967, but failed to gain enough support. 

With the passing of the Fair Housing Act, discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, and national origin was made illegal. In 1974, it became illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex in housing. In 1988, the Fair Housing Amendment Act added disability and familial status to the list of protected classes. In 2021, HUD announced that it will enforce the Fair Housing Act in cases of discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Housing discrimination examples

Because housing discrimination is illegal, when it happens today it’s often more subtle — though outright discrimination still happens, too.

One example of housing discrimination that can be more difficult to recognize is steering. Steering happens when a real estate agent encourages a client to buy a home in certain areas based on their race or other protected classes. If a real estate agent has a Black client and shows them homes only in majority-Black neighborhoods and discourages them from looking at homes in majority-white neighborhoods, they might be engaging in steering.

Landlords can also violate fair housing laws by refusing to rent to someone based on protected classes. For example, if someone who’s an immigrant comes into a leasing office to inquire about an apartment listing and is told that the apartment is no longer available, but it’s still being actively advertised, the landlord may be illegally discriminating based on national origin.

Landlords also can’t treat tenants differently based on protected characteristics. For example, charging families more for rent or not allowing children access to recreation areas is a violation of the Fair Housing Act. Harassing tenants, including sexual harassment, can also be a violation.

Rental buildings built after March 13, 1991 have to be accessible to those with disabilities. Landlords must also make reasonable accommodations for disabilities. A landlord who doesn’t allow pets and makes no exception for service animals, for example, is likely violating fair housing rules.

How to report housing discrimination

If you believe a landlord, rental property owner, real estate agent, mortgage lender, homeowners association, insurance company, or other entity involved in providing or assisting with housing has violated your fair housing rights, you might decide to file a complaint with your local, state, or federal housing authorities. You may also want to talk to a lawyer to see what other recourse you have.

You can use the links in the table above to find out where you can make a complaint in your state. You can also search online with your state or city’s name and “fair housing” to find out how to make complaints to your local authority. Local HUD-partnered nonprofits can assist you as well.

If you want to file a complaint with HUD, you can use the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity’s complaint page to submit a report online or get information on how to submit a report via email, phone, or mail.

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