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Everyone deserves a stable, affordable place to live. The unfortunate truth, however, is that housing discrimination has prevented some vulnerable groups from achieving this cornerstone of the American dream.
The good news is that there are laws protecting people from discrimination when it comes to securing housing. One of the most important is the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Here’s what the FHA covers and how you can protect yourself from discriminatory practices.
What is the Fair Housing Act 1968?
The Fair Housing Act is a critical set of guidelines that will help prevent potential homeowners and renters from being discriminated against by the sale, lease, or financing of their home.
The law was signed into law by President Lydon Johnson in 1968 after several years of policymakers struggling to get it through until the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led to action by Congress.
Today, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) oversees and enforces the Fair Housing Act. It prohibits discrimination in homes based on: race or color, national origin, religion, gender (including sexual orientation and gender identity) per new supreme command), Marital status and disability. Anyone trying to rent, buy or sell a home, take out a mortgage, or receive housing benefits is protected. With a few exceptions, the law also applies to most types of apartment.
How the Fair Housing Act protects against discrimination based on housing
Housing is a broad term. So who exactly is forbidden to discriminate?
The FHA prohibits discrimination through:
- Real estate owners and managers
- Real estate agent
- Mortgage lenders and brokers
- Homeowners Associations
- Anyone else that affects housing options
Basically, any person or organization involved in securing housing must follow FHA guidelines. If someone believes they have been discriminated against, they can turn to HUD and they will investigate.
Examples of housing discrimination
Discrimination can occur in many ways and for different groups of people. Here are some examples:
- Sell or rent. It is illegal to refuse to sell or rent a house to someone based on race, gender, or any of the other factors mentioned in the FHA. This includes misrepresenting that a home is no longer on the market at that time, or providing other terms or facilities for one person versus another. It is also illegal to convince homeowners to sell or rent their property because people of a certain race or other protected class move into the neighborhood for a profit.
- Mortgage loans. Lenders can also discriminate mortgage applicants if the lender refuses to provide information about a loan, completely refuses the applicant, or imposes other conditions (interest rates, fees, etc.) based on the applicant’s race, color, religion, gender and disability, marital status or national origin. Similar discrimination can occur during the evaluation process.
- Homeowner insurance. If an insurance company refuses to offer homeowner insurance to an owner or resident of an apartment because of their race, color, religion, gender, disability, marital status or national origin, this is considered to be discrimination. It is also discriminatory to offer different terms and conditions or to provide limited or information about an insurance product based on the same factors.
- Accommodation of disabilities. People with mental or physical disabilities (such as restricted mobility or chronic mental illness) who “severely limit one or more important life activities” are entitled to certain residential accommodation. If reasonable accommodation is not allowed, even at your own expense, this can be viewed as discrimination. For example, a building where tenants are not normally allowed to have pets would need to allow a visually impaired tenant to keep a lead animal.
- Advertising. When promoting the availability of an apartment for sale or rent, any published language that indicates preferences or restrictions based on race, color, religion, gender, disability, marital status, or national origin is discriminatory. This also applies to advertising for single-family and owner-occupied apartments, which are otherwise exempt from the FHA.
Exemptions from the Fair Housing Act
Although the Fair Housing Act applies to most situations, there are a few exceptions.
For example, if an apartment has four or fewer units and the owner lives in one of them, they are FHA exempt. However, they would not be exempted under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act unless the apartment contained only two units and one was a condominium.
Additionally, any single family home that is sold or rented without a broker is exempt from the FHA as long as the owner is a private individual who does not own more than three such homes at a time. Again, they would not be exempt in the state of Pennsylvania under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.
Shared apartments for older people are also exempt from the FHA in most cases. In order not to violate the family status determination, she must meet one of several conditions. For example, the HUD must have determined that it is specifically designed for and staffed by senior residents under a federal, state, or local government program. Alternatively, it can be 100% occupied by people aged 62 and over.
Another possibility is that at least one person aged 55 and over is accommodated in at least 80% of the occupied units in the municipality. The accommodation must also have a policy stating that the municipality’s intention is to accommodate people aged 55 and over.
Finally, religious organizations and private associations may give preference to members as long as they do not discriminate in their membership.
How fair housing laws are enforced
The HUD is the federal authority responsible for implementing and enforcing the law on fair living. This is done through the Office for Fair Living and Equal Opportunities (FHEO), which is headquartered in Washington and has 10 regional offices in the USA. The aim of these offices is to enforce FTA compliance, administer fair living programs, and educate consumers.
FHEO primarily enforces fair housing programs by funding third party organizations. For example the Program for fair housing initiatives Grants grants to private organizations that investigate complaints and even go undercover to identify FTA violations.
This is how you protect yourself against violations of fair living conditions
If you believe that your rights under the Fair Housing Act have been violated, it is important to file a complaint immediately. HUD will investigate claims made within one year of the breach.
When filing a complaint, provide the following information:
- Your name and address
- Name and address of the person or company against whom your complaint is directed (also known as the respondent)
- Address or other identification of the relevant housing
- The date and a brief description of the incident that led to the violation of your rights
You can file a complaint with the FHEO online by using the HUD form 903. You can also download it this form and email it to your local FHEO office. You can also send a letter or call an office directly.
Once your complaint has been received and accepted, HUD will notify you in writing. The respondent will also be informed that you have made a complaint and given time to provide a written response. The FHEO will investigate your complaint and determine if there is reason to believe that the respondent has violated the FHA. In addition, HUD offers you and the respondent the opportunity to resolve the complaint voluntarily with an arbitration agreement.
If it is determined that there has been a violation of the law and you cannot reach an agreement with the respondent, you may need to consult an attorney and determine what next steps to take.