Many have heard of the Fair Housing Act, but most have little idea what the act actually involves and how it can protect them. Before you start looking for a place to live, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the act so you know what steps can be taken if you feel you have been discriminated against.
Understanding the Fair Housing Act
Signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson just days after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, disability, religion, sex and familial status. At the time the act was signed, discrimination was a significant problem throughout the country, with overt attempts to segregate whole neighborhoods taking place along with outright rejection of otherwise qualified renters due to race and other factors.
While the Fair Housing Act has helped to reduce discrimination, the National Fair Housing Alliance reports that more than 25,000 housing discrimination complaints were filed in 2017. Over half of the complaints were related to discrimination due to disability, while 20 percent were related to racial discrimination.
What is Housing Discrimination?
Despite the number of discrimination reports that are filed, it is estimated that many more go unreported because many people do not know what housing discrimination looks like or how to file a complaint. Housing discrimination can occur at all levels of the home buying or rental process, including in advertising, through the application process, in credit checks and all the way through to the eviction process. Some examples of housing discrimination include:
- Your agent tries to steer you away from a particular neighborhood.
- A property management company refuses to rent your family with children or requires a higher deposit from them.
- The landlords says the advertised unit has been rented when it hasn’t been.
- Your mortgage broker asks questions or requests excessive documentation because you are an immigrant.
- A lender charges you a higher interest rate than your credit card should dictate based on your gender or familial status (i.e. single woman).
- The landlord refuses to make reasonable accommodations for your disability.
Taking Steps Against Discrimination
If you have been discriminated against, you have many options available to you. Generally speaking, your first step should be to file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). You can also file a complaint with your local housing resources. Your local housing counselors can also help answer questions that you might have about discrimination claims while also providing you with home buyer education workshops and rental housing assistance.
Depending upon your situation, it may also be wise to talk to an attorney. And, of course, if you feel as though you are being discriminated against by a real estate agent, broker or mortgage lender, you should seek out a new professional to help you through the home buying and rental process. Talk to people you trust, including friends, family and colleagues, to ask for referrals.