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Understanding Your Rights: Housing Discrimination

Discrimination is, unfortunately, pervasive in our society. One type of discrimination which receives considerable media attention relates to housing availability and opportunities. Do you know how this type of discrimination may occur? Do you know who to turn to if it happens to you? Use this list for information and to keep track of possible incidents of housing discrimination.

What federal laws govern housing discrimination?

The Fair Housing Act, which is formally known as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, is the predominant federal law concerning fair housing and housing discrimination.

Who is protected under the Fair Housing Act?

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on several bases. Do any of them apply to your situation?

Race __Y __N
Color __Y __N
National origin __Y __N
Religion __Y __N
Sex __Y __N
Familial status __Y __N
Handicap or disability __Y __N

What does "familial status" mean?

Familial status means, in simple terms, the makeup of your family unit. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of your type of family. Familial status, for this purpose, may include children under the age of eighteen who are living with their parents or legal custodians, pregnant women, and people who are seeking to secure custody of children under eighteen. For example, a landlord cannot refuse to rent an apartment to you if you tell them that you are pregnant and will soon be having a child unless he or she has another, legitimate reason for not wanting to rent the property to you.

What type of housing is covered by the Fair Housing Act?

The Fair Housing Act covers many different types of housing, including homes, apartments, and townhouses which are for sale or for rent. There may be some exceptions to coverage under the Act. For example, the owner of a small rental building, who also resides in the same building, may not have to follow the Act.

What type of acts are prohibited?

The Fair Housing Act prohibits a number of different discriminatory acts, taken against an individual or group in a protected category, in the sale or rental of a dwelling. Are you in a protected group and experiencing any of the following?

Refusal to rent or sell housing? __Y __N
Refusal to negotiate for housing? __Y __N
Making housing unavailable? __Y __N
Denying a dwelling? __Y __N
Setting different terms, conditions, or privileges for the
sale or rental of a dwelling?
__Y __N
Falsely denying that a dwelling is available for sale or rental? __Y __N
Persuading others, for a profit, to sell or rent their property? __Y __N

Special prohibitions apply to mortgage lending. In this regard, no one may take action based upon a person's membership in a protected category in several situations. Do any apply to you?

Refusal to make a mortgage loan? __Y __N
Refusal to provide information about loans? __Y __N
Imposing different rates or terms on a loan? __Y __N
Discrimination in the appraisal or valuation of real property? __Y __N
Refusal to purchase a loan? __Y __N
Setting different terms or conditions for purchasing a loan? __Y __N

Special protections are also in place for individuals who have a physical or mental disability which substantially limits one or more major life activities, who have in the past had such a disability, or who are regarded as having such a disability. Are you or a member of your family disabled under this definition? If so, has a landlord acted in any of the following ways toward you?

Refused to allow reasonable modifications to the dwelling or
common-use areas if necessary for the person to use the housing?
__Y __N
Refused to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies,
practices, or services if necessary for the disabled person to
use the housing?
__Y __N

Failed to comply with new construction requirements in all buildings first ready for occupancy after March 13, 1991, that have an elevator and four or more units? These buildings must:

Have public and common areas that are accessible to persons with disabilities; __Y __N
Have doors and hallways that are wide enough for wheelchairs; and __Y __N
Have units with handicap-accessible routes, accessible light
switches, electrical outlets, reinforced bathroom walls which
allow for installation of grab-rails, and wheelchair-accessible kitchens.
__Y __N

There are general prohibitions under the Fair Housing Act which make certain acts illegal. Have these illegal actions happened to you?

Threaten, coerce, intimidate, or interfere with anyone
exercising a fair housing right or assisting others in exercising that right.
__Y __N
Advertise or make any other type of statement which indicates
a limitation or preference for purchasers or renters on the basis
of their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or handicap.
__Y __N

How can I report a violation of the Fair Housing Act?

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is responsible for receiving complaints under the Fair Housing Act. You may write HUD a letter or telephone them. In addition, you can download a fair housing complaint form from the HUD website through -

Toll-free number: 1-800-669-9777
TTY phone for the hearing impaired: 1-800-927-9275

Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity
Department of Housing and Urban Development
Room 5204
451 Seventh St. SW
Washington, DC 20410-2000


What should I tell HUD?

You will need to provide HUD with your name and address, the name and address of the person you are bringing the complaint against, the address or location of the dwelling involved, the date the alleged violation occurred, and a brief description of the alleged violation.

What will HUD do with my complaint?

After you submit a complaint you will receive a notification from HUD that it has been received. HUD will usually also notify the person you are complaining about that a complaint has been filed against him or her. HUD will then begin an investigation of your claim in order to determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe that the Fair Housing Act has been violated.

What if I need help right away, and can't wait for an investigation?

In some situations, such as where a serious discriminatory practice is occurring, you may need immediate help. In that case, as soon as it receives your complaint HUD may be able to ask the U.S. Attorney General to seek immediate temporary relief to protect your interests.

How will my complaint be resolved?

Depending upon whether it believes a violation of the Fair Housing Act has occurred, HUD will try to reach an agreement, or conciliation, with the person you are complaining about. If an agreement is reached, and HUD has reasonable cause to believe that it is thereafter broken, they will recommend to the U.S. Attorney General that a suit be filed on your behalf.

Do I get a hearing?

If HUD's investigation finds reasonable cause to believe that discrimination has occurred, you will be entitled to an administrative hearing on the issue unless your complaint has already been resolved through conciliation. If you or the party you are complaining about choose, the case can be heard in federal district court, instead of through an administrative hearing. Administrative hearings tend to be less formal than federal court proceedings, and they are often much speedier.

Do I have to pay to have my case go to hearing or trial?

No. Whether you receive an administrative hearing or your case goes to trial in a federal court, you do not have to pay. At an administrative hearing, HUD attorneys will handle the case on your behalf, at the expense of the government. If you or the other party choose to go to federal court, the Attorney General will file suit on your behalf. You may hire your own attorney to represent you, but you will have to pay for that service.

What type of damages can I receive?

If it is found that the Fair Housing Act has been violated, you may be compensated for your actual damages, which may include your pain and suffering or humiliation. In addition, the administrative law judge who presides over your hearing or the judge who presides over your court case may be able to force the other party to make the housing available to you. Finally, the person who discriminated against you may be required to pay a civil penalty to the federal government for violating the Act.

How does the Fair Housing Act relate to state housing laws?

Your state may have a fair housing law which mirrors, or creates greater protections than, the federal Fair Housing Act. In that case, if you file a complaint with HUD, it will be forwarded to your state fair housing authority for handling. If your state authority does not begin investigating your claim within thirty days, HUD may ask for the complaint to be returned to it for handling.

Are you a Victim of Housing Discrimination? Get Legal Assistance from an Attorney

Our homes can be a refuge from the harsh realities of the world. Unfortunately, the comforts of home are damaged when housing discrimination occurs. Have you been denied a mortgage or received unfair terms based on your religion? Were you denied housing due to your disability? If you have been unfairly treated and you are a member of one of the protected groups, then you could have a claim for housing discrimination. If you suspect that you are a victim of housing discrimination, you should contact an attorney who knows about discrimination issues.

Next Steps
Contact a qualified civil rights attorney
to help you protect your rights.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

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