Under the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968, housing discrimination is illegal if it is done based on one of the following:
- Race or Skin Color: The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on someone's race or the color of their skin. A generation or two ago, this type of discrimination was out in the open in many states (particularly here in the South), but today, it is much more subtle.
- National Origin: Discrimination based on a person's country of origin is also illegal, and landlords cannot ask for proof of citizenship or legal status from applicants of one ethnicity without asking for the same from all other groups.
- Religion: Housing cannot be refused to someone based on their religious beliefs, and landlords are not allowed to show preference to one religious group over another.
- Gender: You cannot be denied housing or have special rules imposed on you because you are male or female. Sexual harassment against someone seeking housing is also prohibited under this section of the Act.
- Familial Status: Some landlords do not like renting to families with children because they fear too much noise or accelerated wear and tear on their properties. Regardless, this type of discrimination is illegal under the Fair Housing Act except in specific circumstances (more on this later). It is also illegal to deny housing to someone who is pregnant under this section of the Act.
- Disability or Handicap: Housing cannot be denied to individuals who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Examples may include mobility impairments, visual and hearing impairments, and mental illness.
The Fair Housing Act applies not only to landlords, but also to others who work in industries that are connected to the buying, selling, and renting of housing. These include:
- Real Estate Agents
- Mortgage Brokers
- Banks and Other Lenders
- Insurance Agents
- Property Managers
Any individual that deals with tenants, homeowners, and those looking to rent or purchase a home are subject to the anti-discrimination laws within the Fair Housing Act. And even if the individual did not personally violate the Act, they may still be liable for any discrimination carried out against a protected class by one of their employees.
Are There any Exemptions to the Fair Housing Act?
There are some properties that are exempted from the Fair Housing Act:
- If a property qualifies under the law as “senior housing”, they are allowed to rent or sell units only to individuals who meet their specific age requirements;
- Owner-occupied properties where an owner lives in a building with four or fewer units;
- An owner of a single-family home if they rent a room or part of their home out without the use of a broker or discriminatory advertising;
- Private clubs and some housing that is owned by religious organizations.
What Kind of Housing Discrimination is Not Covered by the Fair Housing Act?
There are some legal reasons for discriminating against someone who is looking for housing, which we covered in further detail in this post. Here is a quick recap of some of the types of housing discrimination that are allowed:
- Credit history
- History of not paying rent
- Prior bankruptcies
- Falsified housing applications
- Some types of criminal convictions
By and large, the reasons listed above for refusing housing are generally considered valid. But the Fair Housing Act is also starting to show its age, and there are some gaps in the law that are becoming more glaring with each passing year. For example, the Act does not address housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status (whether a couple is married is a different question than whether or not they have children).
This means that it is still not illegal to refuse to rent to someone who has a live-in boyfriend/girlfriend if they are not married. And it is also not illegal to refuse to rent to someone who is gay or transgendered. The Fair Housing Act was last amended in 1988 – more than 30 years ago – and it needs to be amended again soon to help ensure that everyone in our society is protected from unfair housing discrimination.
Are You a Victim of Housing Discrimination in Alabama? Find Out your Legal Rights
If you believe you have been discriminated against (when trying to obtain or maintain housing) based on being a member of a protected class, there are some legal recourses that may be available, and this may include monetary damages. If this happened to you in Alabama, call attorney Kira Fonteneau for legal help. Kira will thoroughly assess your case and inform you of your legal rights and options and the next steps to take.
Call our office today at (404) 383-5720 or message us online to schedule a free consultation with attorney Fonteneau.