Equitable Housing Rights and Protections
Discrimination in housing is illegal and anti-discrimination legislation has existed for over 50 years. Yet the practice persists today.
Cases of discrimination are not always obvious and facing them can be intimidating. Understanding your rights and protections as a buyer or tenant can help you prevent and identify unfair treatment.
Fair housing law
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing – whether public or private – on the basis of:
- national origin
- Family situation, such as pregnancy or having children under the age of 18
The law protects people who rent, buy or sell a house, get a mortgage or apply for housing assistance, and applies to almost all types of housing.
The law grew out of the civil rights movement that culminated in the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed segregation and discriminatory practices. In 1966 and 1967, Congress considered a fair housing bill, but failed to garner enough support for the passage.
This lack of support came to a head in 1968 after the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968, with President Lyndon Johnson signing the Fair Housing Bill six days later on April 11 after receiving the House and the Senate. approval. The law was part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which expanded into the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The federal government expanded the Fair Housing Act in 1974 to include protections for gender. Another expansion in 1988 included protections for families with children and people with disabilities. Many states have since added other protected classes, including sexual orientation, age, and student status. Federal law also prohibits discrimination against people with physical or mental disabilities, or mental or emotional disabilities.
“The law itself has had a strong influence on the housing market,” says Morgan Williams, general counsel for the National Fair Housing Alliance, which advocates for equal housing opportunity. “It reshaped industry practices, and a lot of it grew out of law enforcement.”
Examples of housing discrimination
Housing discrimination takes many forms and can be overt or subtle. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has a list of prohibited practices. Here are some examples.
Discrimination of revolving doors
Borrowers can be discriminated against even before they have the opportunity to apply for a home loan.
“Sometimes what we’ll see is discrimination with a smile, or ‘discrimination at the revolving door’,” Williams says.
In this scenario, a potential borrower asks about a loan product or service, only for the lender to engage them at arm’s length with a smile, and then show them the door.
“In this kind of exchange, without knowing how other customers are engaged, it’s hard to know if this is poor or discriminatory service,” says Williams.
Tenants have abandoned
Williams cites a complaint his organization investigated, locally, in which a tenant reported a landlord whose screening process suggested the landlord did not want to rent to black tenants. Whenever an interested tenant would contact that landlord, the landlord would ask the person to meet her at the apartment.
“Her practice was to go through the dating site and observe the potential tenant,” Williams says, “and if the tenant was white, she would meet him. But if the tenant was black, she would just keep driving.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from refusing to provide people with disabilities with reasonable accommodation and modifications.
A landlord’s failure to provide these homes to the family of a child with a respiratory disability prompted intervention by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The family had requested to be moved to a unit away from neighbors who were heavy smokers. After the mother of the child alleged that the property manager had rejected her claims, HUD intervened and got the property manager to agree to pay damages to the family.
Housing law violations: what to do
If you are a buyer or a tenant and believe you have experienced housing discrimination, there are ways to take action.
1. Keep a register
A good first step is to document any questionable behavior or language that may suggest discrimination on the part of a landlord, realtor, landlord, or lender. To suggest that a neighborhood is or is not “well suited” because of its racial or economic makeup is an example of potentially discriminatory language.
2. Directly confront biases
You can tell your landlord or lender that you feel discriminated against and why, and cite specific laws they may have broken. If you work with a property manager, lender, or real estate agent who works for a large corporation, you can escalate your concerns up the chain of command if your complaints are dismissed.
3. Seek outside help
Your local or state Fair Housing Center can help you investigate potential cases of discrimination or violations of fair housing laws. The National Fair Housing Alliance can help you find a fair trade housing center near you.
“The reason it is really important to contact your local Fair Housing Center is that they can provide you with free advocacy and investigation assistance if you have a fair housing application in the works.” Williams explains, adding that these groups often carry out undercover “mystery shopping”. crucial to constitute evidence in a discrimination case.
You can also file a civil rights complaint with your state attorney general or local human rights commission.
4. File a complaint
You can file a complaint with HUD’s Fair Housing Equal Opportunity Office, either by submitting a complaint online or by mail, or by calling the Housing Discrimination Hotline at 800 -669-9777. The law requires the HUD to investigate these complaints within 100 days of their filing.
You can also file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau if you believe you have been discriminated against in the mortgage industry.
5. Hire a lawyer
A civil rights or housing lawyer can help you defend your rights or take legal action on your behalf.
What to do if you are accused of housing discrimination
If you are facing allegations of discrimination, you can also take steps to respond to them and prevent further discrimination in the future.
Having someone confront you about stigma can provide a learning opportunity. Acknowledging the person’s concerns – without getting on the defensive – and giving them the opportunity to voice them could prevent a situation from escalating to the point of legal action.
“If you are the subject of a complaint, it may be worth taking stock of the bigger picture,” says Williams. “We all have to grapple with some understanding of how we engage with those around us in a very discriminatory country.”
Secure legal advice
A lawyer can advise you on how to respond to a housing discrimination charge, or can represent you in any legal action and speak on your behalf to the complainant’s lawyer, investigators or reporters.
Many business groups in industries such as real estate and mortgages provide advice in the form of training materials, best practices, and handouts on how to administer operations in a way that prevents discrimination in the first place. It can also help your organization to tackle some deeply rooted stereotypes in society.
“Unpacking that bias is hard work,” Williams says, “and it’s something we all have to get involved in, whether someone has filed a lawsuit against you or not.”