Shortly after civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the federal Fair Housing Act (Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968).
In 1988, the law was amended by the Fair Housing Amendments Act which added gender, familial status and disability to the list. Each group of people, covered under the act, is known as a “protected class.” The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) enforces the act by issuing regulations and heading investigations into discriminatory housing practices. The enactment of these housing discrimination laws lifted barriers that you might otherwise face when attempting to rent an apartment.
Benefits of the Fair Housing Act
Prior to the passing of the Fair Housing Act, if you fell into certain groups, you would routinely face discrimination when renting an apartment. This resulted in a lot of segregation, with groups of similar people living in the same neighborhood. To integrate our country and counteract housing discrimination, the Fair Housing Act prohibits certain housing practices. The prohibited practices fall into several categories:
It is illegal for a landlord to refuse to sell, rent to, or negotiate with you because of your race, color, religion, sex, familial status, disability or national origin, or if you have children 18 years of age and under. To add further protection, newly constructed apartment buildings must be designed so that the public and common-use areas are accessible to you, if you have a disability.
It is no longer legal for landlords to engage in discriminatory advertising practices for rental housing. In other words, they can’t run an advertisement disclosing a preference, limitation or discrimination based on any of the protected classes. The law also applies to unpublished statements such as a landlord’s instruction to his rental agent or employees that they should either not rent to you because you’re African-American or that they should give preferential treatment to whites or certain ethnic groups.
Landlords can’t claim that a vacant apartment isn’t available for rent, hold you to higher screening standards, or set higher or lower rents for you because you’re a member of a certain group. Failing to respond to rental inquiries or provide rental applications because you’re a minority is prohibited. In addition, you can’t be evicted for reasons related to what group (race, religion, national origin) you fall into. Racial or gender-based harassment by a landlord or employee is also unlawful under the Fair Housing Act.
Asserting Your Rights Under the Fair Housing Act
Thanks to the Fair Housing Act, if you believe that you’ve been treated unfairly because of who you are, you have the right to file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Further assistance can be obtained by contacting state government agencies that deal with housing discrimination or private fair housing groups.
Lisa Bernstein: As a long-time apartment dweller and seasoned condominium trustee, I have dealt with numerous landlord-tenant, property management, and day-to-day apartment complex issues. My extensive, direct experience has led to invaluable insights into apartment life from both the tenant and management perspectives.