Minorities, families with children and people with disabilities often are denied housing because of the unfair and illegal practice known as housing descrimination. Tenants and prospective home buyers of any race, color, religion, national origin or sex-including people with disabilities and families with children-have a right to equal housing opportunities. When this right is denied, it is housing discrimination.
The federal law that protects you from housing discrimination is the Fair Housing Act, a law enforced by the U.W. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD).
If you believe you were treated unfairly because of who you are, you have a right to file a complaint with HUD. But in order to know if your fair housing rights have been violated, you need to know the signs of housing discrimination. Sometimes the signs are obvious, and sometimes they are very subtle.
A landlord or developer is breaking the law if he or she does not rent or sell to someone specifically because the prospective tenant or buyer belongs to a specific ethnic group, such as African Americans, Asian/Pacific Islanders, Latinos or Native Americans. It also is illegal to harass tenants with racial or sexual slurs.
People with disabilities have additional protections. HUD’s definition of being disabled-or handicapped-includes people with physical, mental or developmental disabilites, including hearing, mobility and visual impairements or mental retardation, as well as people who have HIV/AIDS-related illnesses or who are recovering from alcohol or substance abuse. People with disabilities are protected from any discrimination that is based solely on their disability. They have the right to make improvements to rented homes at their own expense if the work is necessary for them to live there. They also have the right to ask landlords to agree to reasonable exemptions from tenants’ rules. For instance, a no-pets policy should be waived for a visually impaired tenant with a guide dog.
The law protects families with children under 18. This category is called familial status and covers pregnant women, people arranging for an adoption and anyone who has permanent or occasional custody of children under 18, such as foster parents or grandparents. Housing facilities or communities specifically designated for the use of seniors over 55 are exempt from this requirement under the Housing for Older Persons Act (HOPA)