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Federal Fair Housing Law

Fair Housing laws date back to the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1866. This act provides that “all citizens have the same rights” enjoyed by white citizens in every state and territory to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property. What followed was more than 100 years of “separate but equal” discrimination before changes to the Act of 1866 were made. Modern federal fair housing law began with passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, of which Title VIII is the Fair Housing Act. Since its enactment, the private housing market has fallen under the scope of federal laws prohibiting discrimination. According to the United States 1968 Civil Rights Act, Section 801 [42 U.S.C. 3601], “It is the policy of the United States to provide, within constitutional limitations, for fair housing throughout the United States.”

Fair Housing Act

An Amendment to Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (Fair Housing Act) prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, and other housing-related transactions based on the following protected classes:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Disability
  • Familial status

What housing is covered?

The Fair Housing Act covers most housing categories. However, the Act exempts owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, single-family housing sold or rented without the use of a broker, and housing operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members.

What is prohibited?

The law prohibits the following actions based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, handicap or familial status:

  • Refusal to rent or sell housing
  • Refusal to negotiate for housing
  • Make housing unavailable
  • Deny a dwelling
  • Set different terms, conditions or privileges for sale or rental of a dwelling
  • Provide different housing services or facilities
  • Falsely deny that housing is available for inspections, sale, or rental
  • For profit, persuade owners to sell or rent (blockbusting)
  • Deny anyone membership in or access to a facility or service (such as listing services) related to the sale or rental of housing
  • Refusal to make a mortgage loan
  • Refusal to provide information regarding loans
  • Impose different terms or conditions on a loan, such as different interest rates, points, or fees
  • Discriminate in appraising property
  • Refusal to purchase a loan
  • Set different terms or conditions for purchasing a loan
  • Discriminate in advertising
  • Threaten, coerce, intimidate or interfere with individuals exercising a fair housing right or assisting others who exercise that right
  • Advertise or make any statement that indicates a limitation or preference based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, handicap or familial status. This applies to single-family and owner-occupied housing otherwise exempt from the Fair Housing Act

Definition of disability

Individuals perceived as having a physical or mental disability (or having a record of such disability) that substantially limits one or more major life activity are protected under the Fair Housing law. This includes disabilities related to hearing, mobility, visual impairments, chronic alcoholism, chronic mental illness, AIDS, AIDS-Related Complex, and/or mental retardation. The landlord may not:

  • Refuse to make reasonable modifications to their dwelling or common use areas, at the tenant’s expense, if necessary. In certain circumstances, the landlord may permit changes only if the tenant agrees to restore the property to its original condition when they move out.
  • Refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services, if necessary, for disabled individuals to use the housing

Requirements for new buildings

Buildings, ready for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, with an elevator and four or more units:

  • Public and common areas accessible to disabled individuals
  • Doors and hallways wide enough for wheelchairs
  • And 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
  • Kitchens and bathrooms accessible and customized for individuals in wheelchairs

These standards apply to ground floor units only.

Housing Opportunities for families

Discrimination is prohibited against families with one or more children under the age of 18 living with:

  • A parent
  • A person who has legal custody of the child or children
  • The designee of the parent or legal custodian, with written permission from the parent or the legal custodian

Familial status protection also applies to pregnant women and individuals securing legal custody of a child under the age of 18.

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