Housing Discrimination Basics

What You Need to Know About Fair Housing Laws

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From the day you decide to look for an apartment through the very end of your lease term, there's a chance you might experience housing discrimination. If you've already been the victim of unfair discrimination, you know how unpleasant it can feel. On top of emotional anguish, there's the potential for financial loss, inconvenience, and other problems.

Although you can't prevent others from discriminating, you can be prepared by getting familiar with your rights, learning how to spot illegal discrimination, and knowing what your options are for dealing with violators.

Important Fair Housing Basics

Here's what you need to know about housing discrimination:

  1. Find out if you're part of a "protected class." If you feel you're being treated unfairly, you might have a valid legal claim if your treatment is because of your membership in a protected class.
    For example, "familial status," which refers to the presence of one or more children under 18, is a protected class under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), a federal law. So, a landlord who refuses to rent to you simply because you have young children may be held liable for violating fair housing law.
    Get the answers to commonly asked questions about protected classes, including which are the seven protected classes included in the FHA. Your state law may include additional protected classes.
  2. Recognize illegal "steering." Steering, an indirect form of housing discrimination, deserves special attention because of how common it is. In short, it's the subtle practice of trying to limit a person's housing choices by guiding or encouraging apartment hunters to look elsewhere.
    The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) fair housing regulations identify four main types of steering practices. Before you start looking for an apartment, get familiar with steering so you can identify it and possibly take action.
  3. Pursue a fair housing claim. If you decide you want to take legal action against a landlord, broker, property manager, or other housing professional, you don't need to hire an attorney or endure expensive litigation. The FHA lets you file a complaint with HUD, either by phone, by mail, or online.
    Use this resource to review the steps you'll need to take and get access to the complaint form. Also, keep in mind that although it's a comparatively easy process, filing a legal complaint against a person or entity is always serious business. So, take a moment to consider what's involved so you can make an informed decision.
  4. Know your rights if you or your roommate has a disability. The FHA protects prospects and tenants alike from discrimination based on a disability. This term's definition may be broader or narrower than you think, so get familiar with what qualifies under the law as a disability. Also, find out why the disability discrimination ban might protect you even if you don't have a qualifying disability.
    Finally, if you determine the FHA protects you against disability-based discrimination, learn what your landlord must -- and mustn't -- do to avoid infringing on your housing rights.
  5. Learn about special fair housing issues. Whether you're looking for an apartment or you're already living in one, you've got many rights to help you enjoy an experience that's free from unfair discrimination.
    Here are some additional situations or special issues that may be relevant to you: