Fair Housing Laws

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits the denial of housing to a person based on the person's membership in one or more of the classes protected under the Act. The protected classes are race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, and disability. It is therefore illegal to discriminate against a person in the provision of housing because of a person's membership in a protected class in the following situations:

  • The sale or rental of most housing
  • The terms, conditions, privileges of sale or rental, or provision of services or facilities in connection with the sale or rental of most housing
  • The advertising of a sale or rental of housing
  • The representation of the availability of housing for rental or sale
  • The provision of reasonable modification to a dwelling for persons with a disability at their expense when necessary for the full use and enjoyment of the dwelling
  • The provision of a reasonable accommodation to the rules, policies, practices, or services when necessary to provide persons with a disability the equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling
  • The financing or refinancing of housing
  • The provision of real estate brokerage services

In addition, it is illegal to coerce, intimidate, threaten or interfere with a person seeking to exercise rights under the Fair Housing Act.

Additional Protection if you have a Disability

If you or someone associated with you:

  • Have a physical or mental disability (including hearing, mobility, and visual impairments, chronic alcoholism, chronic mental illness, AIDS, AIDS Related Complex, and mental retardation) that substantially limits one or more major life activities
  • Have a record of such a disability or
  • Are regarded as having such a disability

Your landlord may not:

  • Refuse to let you make reasonable modifications to your dwelling or common use areas, at your expense, if necessary for the disabled person to use the housing. (Where reasonable, the landlord may permit changes only if you agree to restore the property to its original condition when you move.)
  • Refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services if necessary for the disabled person to use the housing.

Examples of Reasonable Modification include:

  • Installing a ramp
  • Installing grab bars in the bathroom
  • Widening doorways
  • Installing lever door handles

Examples of Reasonable Accommodation include:

  • Allowing a service or therapy animal, despite a no-pet policy
  • Allowing a tenant to have a live-in aide who is not on the lease to assist with daily care
  • Assigning a reserved parking space to a tenant with a mobility impairment, even if parking is typically "first come/first serve"

Does Housing Have to Be Accessible

In buildings that are ready for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, and have an elevator and four or more units:

  • Public and common areas must be accessible to persons with disabilities
  • Doors and hallways must be wide enough for wheelchairs

All units must have:

  • An accessible route into and through the unit
  • Accessible light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats, and other environmental controls
  • Reinforced bathroom walls to allow later installation of grab bars and
  • Kitchens and bathrooms that can be used by people in wheelchairs.

If a building with four or more units has no elevator and will be ready for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, these standards apply to ground-floor units.

These requirements for new buildings do not replace any more stringent standards in State or local law.

Examples of Illegal Discrimination 

Examples of illegal discrimination under the federal Fair Housing Act based on protected class membership are:

  • False denial of availability: Advising someone because of their class membership that there are no available units when, in fact, there are.
    • "Sorry, we just rented the last unit."
  • Refusal to dealRefusing to rent, sell - or even negotiate - with a person because of class membership.
    • "We don't rent to Jews." or "We don't sell to families with children."
  • Discriminatory terms and conditions and provision of services or facilities: Giving less favorable terms in sales or rental agreements because of class membership.
    • "The rent is $200 higher for persons with a disability or a service animal."
  • Discriminatory Advertising: Indicating any preference, limitation, or discrimination because of class membership.
    • "No African Americans need apply."
  • Financial Discrimination: Denying any type of home loan for discriminatory reasons by lenders, including banks, savings and loan associations, insurance companies, and others, or giving less favorable loan terms because of class membership.
    • "Minorities must be charged higher interest rates on loans than similar white homeowners."
  • Refusal to permit a reasonable modification to the unit at the expense of the person with a disability, in order that the person may have full enjoyment of the unit.
    • "You may not install grab bars in the bathroom."
  • Denial of a reasonable accommodation to the rules and regulations of rental in order that the person with a disability may have equal opportunity to use and fully enjoy their unit.
    • "It's against the rules to have another person live with you, even though there is enough room and the person is necessary to help you with your health needs."