The Protected Classes Under the Federal Fair Housing Act

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In 1968, the U.S. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, and among its provisions was the portion known as Title VIII, better known as the Fair Housing Act. The FHA was enacted to protect people against any kind of discrimination when renting an apartment, buying a home, or obtaining financing for a home loan. Within the FHA, the federal government defines seven "protected classes" to define the kinds of discrimination forbidden.

In short, the personal characteristics defined by these classes cannot be the basis of discrimination by landlords, home-sellers, or lenders.

The Seven Protected Classes

The original FHA had only five protected classes—race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. An amendment in 1988, however, added handicap and familial status to the protected classes.

It is important to note, though, to be guilty of such discrimination, it must be shown that one of these characteristics is the reason for discrimination. Nor does the original FHA forbid all forms of discrimination. It is possible, for example, or a landlord to discriminate on the basis of income, and nothing in the FHA makes such discrimination illegal. 

Individual states and communities, however, may enact their own laws that expand on the protections of the FHA.

Changes and Additions to Housing Discrimination Laws

1988: Title VIII was amended by the Fair Housing Amendments Act, which:

  • Expanded the coverage of the Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination based on disability or on familial status (presence of a child under age of 18, and pregnant women, or elderly persons). This Amendments Act also allowed for the creation of designated senior citizen housing communities. 
  • Established new administrative enforcement mechanisms with HUD attorneys bringing actions before administrative law judges on behalf of victims of housing discrimination.
  • Revised and expanded Justice Department jurisdiction to bring suit on behalf of victims in Federal district courts.

1995: The Housing for Older Persons Act of (HOPA) actually made it legal to enact some forms of discrimination for housing communities defined as 55-and-older. In such communities, it is allowable to not rent to families who have no residents falling into the senior citizen definition. This was intended to protect housing availability for senior citizens. All other protected classes still enjoy the same protections in officially designated 55-and-older or 62-and-older living communities. 

If You Think Your Rights Have Been Violated

If you think your rights under the FHA have been violated, obtain a copy of the Housing Discrimination Complaint Form and fill it out online. Or, you may write HUD a letter or telephone the HUD office nearest to you. You are allowed one year after the alleged violation to file the complaint. 

What to tell HUD: 

  • Your name and address
  • The name and address of the person your complaint is against (the respondent)
  • The address or other identification of the housing involved
  • A short description of the alleged violation (the event that caused you to believe your rights were violated)
  • The date(s) of the alleged violation

Where to write or call: 

Send the Housing Discrimination Complaint Form or a letter to the HUD Office nearest you or you may call that office directly.

If you are disabled: 

HUD also provides:

  • A toll-free TTY phone for the hearing impaired: 1-800-927-9275.
  • Interpreters
  • Tapes and braille materials
  • Assistance in reading and completing forms