Discrimination in housing is an unfortunate reality in the United States. It can take many forms and is common when people from various vulnerable populations are looking for a place to live.
This article will discuss the various types of housing discrimination and provide examples of each, with the hope of providing you with a better understanding of what it is and how to prevent it from happening to you or someone you know.
What Is Housing Discrimination?
Discrimination in housing is the illegal practice of treating people differently based on their protected class when renting, selling, financing, or advertising housing. Protected characteristics include race, color, national origin, religion, gender, familial status, sexual orientation, and disability.
This practice can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Landlords, for example, may refuse to rent to someone because of their race or national origin. A mortgage lender may deny a qualified borrower's loan due to that person’s apparent gender or perceived sexual orientation. On a fundamental level, an architect may fail to add the required accessibility features when designing new housing developments.
Housing Discrimination Laws: The Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act is a federal law that prohibits housing and housing-related discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, gender, familial status, or disability. The Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968 in the aftermath of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination and as an extension of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; it has been amended several times since then.
The Fair Housing Amendments Act, enacted in 1988, expanded the Act's coverage to include people with disabilities and families with children. The Fair Housing Act is enforced by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Discrimination complaints can be filed with the HUD based on this act or with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) based on the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA).
When discrimination is discovered, HUD may impose civil penalties on violators and compensate victims. Furthermore, individuals who engage in discriminatory housing practices, or knowingly aid or abet such discrimination, may face criminal charges dictated by federal law.
What Housing Types Are Covered?
Fair Housing rights apply to all housing types, including apartments, single-family homes, condominiums, and cooperative housing. It also applies to all aspects of housing transactions, such as advertising, financing, leasing, and sales.
Landlords and property developers must take reasonable steps to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities, and homeowners' associations must make reasonable accommodations for vulnerable groups.
Types of Housing Discrimination
According to the National Fair Housing Alliance research, complaints alleging disability discrimination continue to account for the majority of disputes, while race-based discrimination accounts for nearly 20% of them. As we have seen, housing discrimination comes in many forms, and often happens on multiple bases simultaneously. In general, the bases for discrimination can be categorized as follows:
Housing Discrimination Based on Race or Color
Despite the fact that racial discrimination is illegal, it unfortunately still occurs. In some cases, people of color are outright denied a lease or mortgage because of their skin color, while in others, they are steered towards specific neighborhoods known for high crime rates, poorer access to schools, or other negative characteristics.
This practice, called redlining, effectively limits housing options for people of color and creates segregated communities. Racial discrimination in housing is not only morally wrong, but it also perpetuates socioeconomic disparities between racial groups.
Housing Discrimination Based on Disability
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all aspects of public life, including housing. The ADA requires landlords to make reasonable accommodations for tenants with mental or physical disabilities, not to refuse them, or treat tenants with disabilities differently.
Unfortunately, landlords in the United States may attempt to evict tenants with disabilities, refuse to make necessary repairs, or add accessibility features to their units. In other cases, landlord discrimination may result in higher rents or deposits for tenants with disabilities.
The fact that people with disabilities face discrimination in the housing market, and that health care services available to them are often inadequate, speaks volumes about the necessary changes that must be implemented.
Housing Discrimination Based on Gender or Sexual Orientation, Including Sexual Harassment
Discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation is another persistent form of discrimination related to housing. This can take many forms, ranging from landlords refusing to rent to women or trans people, to sexual harassment by landlords.
Sadly, landlords and house owners causing potential tenants physical and emotional harm in housing discrimination cases is common. Gender-based housing discrimination victims may have more difficulty finding suitable housing, which can lead to financial insecurity and devastating health consequences. Also, queer couples might be denied housing because their relationship doesn’t align with the landlord’s “values.”
Housing Discrimination Based on Religion
The most obvious form of religion-based discrimination is when a landlord informs prospective tenants that a specific apartment is unavailable because the landlord does not want to rent to people of a particular religion.
Alternatively, a lending institution may refuse to approve a loan for purchasing a house or apartment because the buyer intends to use it as a residence for members of a specific religion. Some recent housing discrimination cases also involve zoning practices that make it difficult or impossible for members of religious organizations to worship together in their homes or neighborhoods.
Housing Discrimination Based on National Origin
Discrimination of this type can take the form of refusing to rent or sell to someone based on their national origin, or imposing different terms or conditions on people of different nationalities. Making assumptions about someone's abilities or character based on their ethnicity and basing a housing decision on that is also an example of national origin discrimination.
Despite the existence of the Housing Discrimination Act, national-origin-based discrimination persists. As a result, people of certain backgrounds have a more difficult time finding safe, affordable housing, lowering the overall quality of life in American society and undermining the fundamental principles of fairness and equality.
Housing Discrimination Based on Familial Status
Housing discrimination based on familial status can range from refusing to rent an apartment to a family with children to charging higher rents or deposits, as well as making threats or comments about someone's family, such as saying that a tenant with young children is "too noisy" or that an expecting mother "takes up too much space."
Discrimination of this kind is not only unjust in principle, but it often forces families to relocate to a less desirable neighborhood, sacrifice school access, or pay higher costs to protect their children from the dangers of lower-quality housing options.
Age Discrimination in Housing
Just like there is age discrimination in the workplace, housing discriminates against certain age groups, as well. Worse yet, age discrimination is not explicitly forbidden by the Fair Housing Acts federal law. Nonetheless, it is categorically prohibited in light of the broader ban on discrimination based on familial status.
Landlords are not allowed to discriminate against seniors by not renting to them or applying different rules to their tenancy than they would to anyone else. Even if you are 80 years old and require the regular assistance of someone nearby, a landlord has no legal ground to refuse your tenancy if you have excellent credit history and references.
Examples of Housing Discrimination
The following are indicators of discriminatory housing practices that are all too common in housing sales and rentals:
- Refusing to rent or sell property
- Making housing unavailable
- Setting different terms, conditions, or benefits for the sale or rental of a home
- Refusing to bargain for housing
- Applying different qualification criteria or applications to different applicants, or using different sale or rental standards or procedures
- Falsely claiming that housing is not available for inspection, purchase, or rental
- Persuading owners to sell or rent their property for profit (blockbusting)
- Denying anyone access to or membership in a facility or service related to the sale or rental of housing
- Refusing to provide a mortgage loan or other financial assistance for a home in mortgage lending.
How to Fight Housing Discrimination
Owners of private property can legally refuse to sell or rent to anyone for any reason under Fair Housing laws. This implies that proving the existence of discriminatory behavior against a protected class will be a difficult task.
You can file a Fair Housing complaint or a complaint with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) if you believe you have been a victim of this type of discrimination. You can also contact your state's fair housing agency or the human rights commission of your local government.
According to housing discrimination attorneys, the best way to gather evidence for a case with state or local fair housing officials or HUD is to actively listen to landlords, agents, brokers, and lenders, take notes, and look for red flags.
Additionally, an experienced housing discrimination lawyer can help you understand your options and take the necessary steps to pursue justice. With continued education, advocacy, and stricter enforcement of the relevant acts, we can hopefully create a future where everyone has access to safe and affordable housing.
Discrimination in housing and inequality must be addressed more thoroughly. Everyone, regardless of their background, should have the same opportunity to find a decent place to live.
Despite the federal housing discrimination law designed to protect vulnerable groups, rising living costs make it difficult for too many people to keep a roof over their heads. And since socioeconomic hardship disproportionately affects people with protected characteristics, these price hikes automatically discriminate against them. It is past time to act for everyone to live in safety.