Welcome to the Housing Discrimination section of FindLaw's Civil Rights center, with practical and historical information about federal fair housing laws. The legal concept of fair housing holds that no one should suffer unequal treatment in housing decisions based on a protected characteristic such as race, or disability. Anyone who treats an individual unequally in a housing decision based on one of these characteristics has likely engaged in housing discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act. This section contains information on discrimination and fair housing rights for home buyers and renters (tenants), and what to do if you are unlawfully denied housing.
What is Housing Discrimination?
To discriminate is to treat someone differently -- usually in an adverse manner -- on the basis of an arbitrary trait or category. For instance, landlords may not exclude prospective tenants from consideration just because they are African-American. These protections also extend to home buyers and mortgage loan applicants. Discrimination against housing applicants is very difficult to prove in the absence of evidence pointing to a landlord or real estate agent's intent, similar to charges of discrimination against job applicants.
Specifically, the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. This also applies to perceptions of such characteristics. For example, a landlord who refuses to rent to an applicant he (falsely) believes is Muslim has violated federal law even if the applicant is not Muslim.
Types of Discriminatory Acts Prohibited by the Fair Housing Act
There are a number of ways a landlord, real estate agent, mortgage lender, or other involved party may discriminate against applicants, tenants, or homeowners. If you are part of a protected group, you may be able to file a claim for discrimination if a party committed any of the following acts against your interests:
- Refusal to rent or sell housing
- Refusal to negotiate housing
- Making housing unavailable to certain applicants
- Offering different terms or conditions to different applicants
- Persuading others to sell or rent their property for a profit
In addition, lenders and financial institutions may not commit the following acts in a discriminatory manner:
- Refusal to make a loan
- Refusal to provide information about a loan
- Imposing different rates for different applicants (regardless of credit score and other tangible factors)
- Discrimination in appraisal or valuation
Those with physical or mental disabilities also have certain rights and protections. For instance, landlords must make reasonable modifications to a property for disabled tenants. Also, public and common areas (such as the laundry room) must be accessible to persons with disabilities, in addition to handicap-accessible routes and parking spaces.
Fair Housing and the U.S. Supreme Court
As with many other areas of the law, fair housing laws are partially shaped by decisions made at the Supreme Court. Some of the most prominent among these include:
- Shelley v. Kraemer (1948) -- Ruled that "racially restrictive covenants" in property deeds are unenforceable.
- Jones v. Mayer Co. (1968) -- Court held that federal law prohibits racial discrimination in the private or public sale or rental of property.
- Village of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp. (1977) -- When filing a claim of racial discrimination in a land zoning decision, plaintiff must show proof of intent.
Learn more about housing discrimination by clicking on one of the links below.