Saving up enough money to pay the deposit and first month's rent for an apartment -- not to mention utilities and other necessities -- can be a monumental task. But when housing discrimination comes into play, such a basic human need as shelter can be nearly impossible to obtain. Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about housing discrimination.
Frequently Asked Questions
The federal Fair Housing Act, the Fair Housing Amendment Acts (42 U.S. Code 3601-3619, 3631), and many state and local laws prohibit a landlord from selecting tenants based on certain protected criteria. A landlord may not refuse to rent to a tenant for the following reasons:
In addition, state and local housing discrimination laws may offer coverage beyond federal law, such as protection for sexual orientation, age, and marital status.
A landlord must treat every tenant equally. Illegal discrimination occurs when the landlord:
The Fair Housing Acts apply to any person that deals with tenants and prospective tenants, including real estate agents, property owners, landlords, and managers. Even if the property owner did not personally discriminate against tenants or prospective tenants, the landlord may still be liable for the civil rights violations of employees.
The Fair Housing Acts do not apply to every rental property. Exempt property includes:
Local and state housing discrimination laws may still apply to federally exempt property, however.
A landlord must base the selection of tenants on pre-established and objective criteria. A landlord may reject prospective tenants based on a fair screening process that requires all tenants to undergo the same application process. A landlord may consider the following when screening a tenant:
A tenant or a prospective tenant can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) if a possible violation of their rights occurred under the Fair Housing Acts. It is necessary to file the complaint within one year of the alleged discrimination. HUD will conduct an investigation to determine whether to dismiss the complaint or attempt to reach a "conciliation" agreement between the parties. If conciliation is unsuccessful, a judge will conduct an administrative hearing to determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred. If the court finds discrimination, it may issue an order of relief and grant the tenant damages.
Instead of having the case decided in an administrative hearing, the tenant or the landlord may choose to have the case litigated in Federal District Court by the Attorney General's office. A District Court can grant the tenant injunctive relief and damages.
Because state and local areas also have anti-discrimination laws, a tenant may file a complaint with the appropriate agency. Under state and local law, the statute of limitation for filing a complaint may be different from federal time limits. The same investigation and conciliation efforts that HUD uses usually occur in a state or local investigation as well.
Within two years after an alleged violation occurs, a person may file a private lawsuit in federal or state court even if the discrimination led to a complaint with HUD. As long as a conciliation agreement did not occur or an administrative hearing did not commence, a court can preside over the case. A finding of discrimination may result in the tenant receiving actual damages, damages for emotional distress, punitive damages, and attorney fees.
Housing discrimination is a serious violation, whether it results in fewer housing choices, unfair terms, or some other indignity. However, it is often unreported. If you think that you have been denied fair housing rights, then take the initiative and talk to a civil rights attorney about your situation.
Contact a qualified civil rights attorney to help you protect your rights.