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What Types of Housing Discrimination are Illegal?

Posted by Kira Fonteneau | Jul 05, 2020 | 0 Comments

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 prohibit discrimination against renters on the basis of a protected class. These federal laws apply to all aspects of the landlord-tenant relationship, and they provide protections to individuals (and couples) who fall into a wide range of protected categories.

Landlords cannot discriminate in selecting tenants on the basis of a group characteristic such as:

Race: Federal law prohibits landlords from discriminating against tenants based on race or the color of their skin. These days, overt racial discrimination is rarer than in years past, although it still occurs. More common are subtler forms of racism, such as not calling back a black applicant, or telling them that an apartment is already rented when in fact there is still a vacancy.

Ethnicity/National Origin: Discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or national origin is nearly as pervasive these days as racial discrimination. Some landlords will not rent to tenants who are from certain countries or have an accent. For example, when they detect an accent over the phone, they do not call them back or again they tell the applicant that the apartment is already rented. Another discriminatory act would be to ask applicants of certain ethnicities to prove their citizenship or show their legal status without asking this of other applicants.

Religion: Landlords are not allowed to show religious preferences, and they should not be asking any questions that might reveal your religion, or whether or not you are religious at all. For example, a question like, “where do you go to church?” might seem innocuous, but this type of question implies that you go to a church rather than a synagogue or mosque, or to no place of worship at all. A question like this should never be asked, because it would lead an applicant to reasonably conclude that those who attend churches (and likely Christian churches) are preferred tenants.

Familial Status: Landlords are not allowed to ask your marital status, whether or not you have kids, or are planning to have them. A lot of landlords prefer not to rent to tenants who have kids, because they believe that they will make a lot of noise and create a lot of mess. But federal law does not allow landlords to discriminate on this basis, and any questions about your kids are off limits. Landlords are also not allowed to discriminate based on age, unless you are applying to live in an approved senior or retirement community.

Sex: You cannot be denied housing or have special restrictions placed on you solely because you are female or male. This would even include something that is seemingly designed to help, such as requiring female tenants to live on the second or third floor of a building because the landlord believes these units are safer. Another type of sex discrimination in housing is sexual harassment. One common example would be refusing to rent to someone who resists the landlord's sexual advances.

It should be noted that federal law still does not have protections in place for housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and less than half of the states have enacted such protections. Hopefully, this will change in the near future.

Disability: Federal law prohibits landlords from discriminating against individuals who have a physical or mental disability that significantly inhibits one or more major life activity. Landlords are not allowed to ask if you have a disability or illness or ask to see your medical records.  Landlords are also required to reasonably accommodate the needs of the disabled tenant. One example would be allowing a blind tenant to have a guide/service dog in a building where no pets are usually allowed.

Are There any Exceptions to the Fair Housing Act?

There are some types of rental property which are exempt from housing discrimination claims under the Fair Housing Act. As we touched on earlier, certain types of housing communities can be rented to seniors only. Other housing that is exempt includes:

  • Single family homes being rented by a landlord without a property manager or any advertising, as long as the landlord owns no more than three such properties at any given time;
  • Buildings with four or fewer rental units in which the landlord lives in one of the units;
  • Certain types of housing that is run by private clubs or religious organizations in which rental units are only available to their own members.

What Should I Do if I've Been a Victim of Housing Discrimination? 

If you have been discriminated against as a renter based on a federally protected class, you have legal rights, and you may be able to file a claim for housing discrimination. Since 2005, attorney Kira Fonteneau has stood up for those in Alabama who have had their rights violated under the Fair Housing Act. Kira has extensive knowledge of this area of the law, and she fights hard to help her clients obtain appropriate legal relief. 

To schedule a free consultation with attorney Fonteneau, call our office today at (404) 383-5720 or message us through our online contact form.

About the Author

Kira Fonteneau

Partner and Managing Attorney of the Alabama Trial Practice Group at Barrett & Farahany Kira Fonteneau is a partner and the managing attorney of the Alabama trial group of Barrett & Farahany. Kira chose to specialize in employment law because she wanted to help employees take back power. ...

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