Fair Housing Laws

Fair Housing Laws

Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, as amended, is known as The Fair Housing Act.

The Fair Housing Act is the federal law that makes it illegal to discriminate in any housing related transaction based on seven protected classes.

  • Race
  • Color
  • National Origin
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Disability
  • Familial Status (or the presence of minor children in a household, pregnant women, or anyone in the process of securing legal custody of a child

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act is the state law protecting consumers against housing discrimination and adds two additional protected classes.

  • Age (over 40)
  • Users, handlers, or trainers of assistance animals for persons with disabilities

Fair Housing laws make it illegal to discriminate against anyone based on a protected class in any of the following ways:

  • Refusing to rent or sell housing
  • Refusing to negotiate for the sale or rental of housing
  • Making housing unavailable or denying that housing is available
  • Setting different terms, conditions, or privileges for the sale or rental of housing, a mortgage loan, homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, or any other housing transaction
  • Advertising in a discriminatory way
  • Threatening or intimidating anyone exercising a fair housing right or assisting anyone else in exercising their fair housing right

Types of Housing Covered by the Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act cover all types of housing, including:

  • Apartments
  • Mobile Home Parks
  • Condominiums
  • Single Family Homes
  • Public Housing
  • Nursing Homes
  • Dormitories
  • Group Homes for People with Disabilitie

Housing Exempt from Fair Housing Laws

The following types of housing do not have to comply with some portions of Fair Housing laws.

Buildings with two units where the owner lives in one of the units are exempt from the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act and buildings with four units where the owner lives in one of the units are exempt from the Fair Housing Act.

Housing run by religious organizations may limit occupancy to members as long as they do not discriminate based on race.

Housing for Older Persons (for people over the age of either 55 or 62) that meet certain requirements may refuse to rent to families with children.

There is never an exemption for discriminatory statements or discriminatory advertising.

Discriminatory Statements and Discriminatory Advertising

The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to make or publish any statement or advertisement that states a preference or limitation based on a protected class. The following are examples of illegal advertising:

  • “no kids”
  • “perfect for single or couple”
  • “Christian home”
  • “Apartment not suitable for handicapped person”
  • “Italian neighborhood”

Generally, a housing advertisement should describe the property being rented and not the desired renter.

Families with Children

Familial Status is a protected class under the Fair Housing Act. It is illegal to discriminate against individuals and families who have minor children in their household, pregnant women, or anyone securing legal custody of a child. Examples of illegal discrimination against families with children include:

  • “No children” policies
  • Refusing families due to the ages of their children (for example, not allowing children under the age of 7)
  • Rejecting families based on the presence of lead based paint
  • Segregating housing so that children are only allowed on certain floors or in certain buildings
  • Refusing to rent to a family with children because of “unsafe conditions” or the apartment is “not suitable for children”
  • Stating that parents and children or boys and girls cannot share a bedroom—these types of decisions are the parent’s choice to make
  • Evicting a family or individual because of pregnancy or a child joining the family by birth, adoption, or legal custody
  • Overly restrictive occupancy policies and per capita charges for each additional occupant may violate the Fair Housing Act in some circumstances

Victims of Domestic Violence

  • It is illegal to discriminate against someone due to a history of experiencing domestic violence.
  • Refusing to rent to someone because they have been a victim of domestic violence violates the Fair Housing Act.
  • A zero tolerance policy for crime that is applied to victims of domestic violence violates the Fair Housing Act. (Example: A landlord has a zero tolerance policy for crime committed on the property. One of the tenants is a victim of domestic violence and she calls the police when her abuser shows up at her apartment in violation of a protection from abuse order. The abuser is arrested. It would violate the Fair Housing Act for the landlord to evict the tenant because of the zero tolerance policy.)

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is illegal under the Fair Housing Act. It is illegal for a housing provider to demand sexual favors in exchange for housing or for making repairs. Statements such as “Go out with me and I’ll reduce your rent” or “Go out with me and I’ll fix your roof” constitute unlawful sexual harassment under the Fair Housing Act.

It is also unlawful for a housing provider to create or allow a hostile environment. Unwelcome offensive or sexual conduct, remarks of a sexual nature, or unwelcome touching by a landlord or a landlord’s employee, constitute a hostile environment and are unlawful.

Protections for LGBT Individuals

Neither the Fair Housing Act nor the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act include sexual orientation, gender expression, or gender identity as protected classes. However, some municipalities have passed ordinances prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender expression, or gender identity. Check with your local government for more information.

In addition, the National Association of Realtors® Code of Ethics prohibits Realtors® from discriminating based on sexual orientation. HUD’s Equal Access Rule prohibits HUD funded housing programs from discriminating based on sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.

National Origin, Immigration Status & Limited English Proficiency

Every person in the United States is protected by the Fair Housing Act. A person’s immigration status does not affect his or her fair housing rights. It is illegal to discriminate against someone because of their own or ancestral place of origin or because of their cultural or ethnic background or language. It is illegal to discriminate against someone who appears to be of a certain ethnic background, even if they are not.

Landlords are allowed to request immigration documentation and conduct inquiries to determine whether a potential renter meets the criteria for rental, as long as the same process is applied to all potential renters. Singling out only some individuals to prove their immigration status because of their national origin is a violation the Fair Housing Act (for example, asking only Mexican or Latino immigrants for proof of immigration status and not other applicants).

Additionally, it is illegal to discriminate against someone because they have limited proficiency in English. Statements such as “all tenants must speak English” or treating tenants differently because their English is not proficient violates the law. Programs that receive federal funds have an additional responsibility to provide interpreters and translators for individuals who are not proficient in English.

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