Environmental justice advocates are hopeful that the Biden administration will address systemic inequality in housing.
What is the Fair Housing Act?
The Fair Housing Act is a federal law that was passed in 1968. It prohibits discrimination in the buying, renting, selling or financing of housing. The act specifically prohibits discrimination based on race, skin color, national origin, religion, sex, disability and the presence of children.
According to the Fair Housing Act, or FHA as it’s commonly referred to, landlords, real estate companies, sellers of real estate, mortgage companies, insurance companies and other agencies or persons may not use a buyer’s or renter’s protected class characteristics as a reason to:
- Falsely claim housing is unavailable.
- Deny access to real estate services or facilities.
- Decline the sale or rental of a property.
- Refuse to negotiate for housing.
- Provide different sale or lease terms that other applicants would not receive.
- Deny access or membership to a service (such as multiple listing service) related to housing.
Regarding mortgage lending, parties are forbidden to take the following actions based on a person’s protected class:
- Decline to provide information regarding loans.
- Deny a mortgage loan.
- Impose different conditions or terms, such as charging different interest rates, points, or fees.
- Discriminate in appraising property.
- Refuse to purchase a loan.
Furthermore, it’s illegal to make threats against, intimidate, or coerce persons exercising their fair housing rights or assisting others to exercise their rights. It’s also illegal to make statements or advertise limitations or housing preference based on a person’s protected status.
While most housing is covered in this act, the FHA does exempt owner-occupied dwellings with four or fewer units, single-family homes rented or sold without a broker, and housing operated by private clubs and organizations that limit residency to members.
Fair Housing Act examples
The FHA provides specific provisions for persons with disabilities. Disabilities that are protected under the FHA are physical and mental disabilities that significantly limit one or more life activities.
Landlords may not prohibit tenants from making reasonable modifications to a home or common use areas, at the tenants’ expense, if it is necessary for the disabled person to use the home. However, where it is reasonable, the landlord may require that the tenant return the property to its condition when the renter moved in. Landlords may not refuse to make reasonable accommodations to rules, practices, policies, and services if it is necessary for the disabled person to use the housing. For example, a visually impaired tenant must be allowed to keep a guide dog, regardless of the pet policy.
Buildings with four or more units that were available for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, have special requirements. These are:
- Doors and hallways must be wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs.
- All public and common areas must be accessible to people with disabilities.
All residences must have:
- Bathrooms and kitchens that can accommodate people with wheelchairs.
- Accessible routes into the residence and throughout the residence.
- Accessible light switches, outlets, thermostats and environmental controls.
- Reinforced bathroom walls to accommodate the later installation of grab bars.
Except in cases where the property qualifies as housing for older people, discrimination based on the presence of children in the home is prohibited if the child under 18 years old lives with a parent, a legal custodian or a designee of the parent or legal custodian, with the parent or legal custodian’s written consent. This protection is also extended to pregnant women and anyone who is seeking legal custody of children under 18 years old.
There are circumstances when familial housing protections do not apply:
- The residence is designed for and occupied by elderly residents in a federal, state, or local government program.
- The residence is exclusively occupied by residents 62 years and older.
- The residence provides housing for at least one person who is 55 years or older in at least 80 percent of the occupied residences and observes policies that demonstrate the intent to house residents who are 55 or older.