More than 50 years after the Fair Housing Act was enacted in the United States, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community is making significant strides in homeownership. One milestone came earlier this year when the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced it would begin enforcing the Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Although the real estate industry as a whole has been supportive of the LGBTQ community, housing discrimination has been a major obstacle for same-sex couples. A 2019 study out of Iowa State University looked at mortgage data from 1990 through 2015 and found that loan approval rates for same-sex couples were 3 percent to 8 percent lower than for heterosexual couples. Same-sex couples also paid more in financing: as much as $86 million more per year, collectively.
Further, a 2020 National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals (NAGLREP) report revealed that 30 percent of NAGLREP members believe their LGBT clients are “very or extremely concerned” about housing discrimination.
How to recognize housing discrimination
While HUD works to enforce the Fair Housing Act and address cases of discrimination, it’s up to homebuyers and renters to call out unfair practices. There are several clear signals of discrimination to watch for:
- A mortgage lender who isn’t upfront about mortgage rates
- A real estate agent who refuses to represent you
- A seller who suddenly claims their house is off the market
- If you and your partner have to work harder to get financing compared with male/female couples
- If you are turned away from certain rental properties, even when there’s a vacancy
How to protect yourself from housing discrimination
One of the most important steps to protecting yourself from housing discrimination is to work with an LGBTQ-friendly real estate agent. You can find agents through NAGLREP online. Get referrals from family and friends for the best agents in your area.
In addition to finding an agent, shop around for a mortgage lender who you can be sure won’t discriminate against you. You can consult your local Fair Housing Authority for help.
What to do if you experience housing discrimination
If you believe you’ve been the victim of housing discrimination, there are several ways you can take action:
- Speak with an attorney.
- File a complaint with HUD online or call 800-669-9777 (or 800-877-8339 for hearing impaired).
- File a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau online.
- Call the Lambda Legal help desk.
- Contact your local American Civil Liberties Union.
Housing discrimination laws and resources by state
Some states have housing protection laws in place for the LGBTQ community — but not all — and others have NAGLREP chapters.
In 2020, the Supreme Court issued an important decision that extended the concept of sex discrimination from the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Four states have adopted what is known as the Bostock rationale, based on one of the cases involved in the decision, Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia:
- North Dakota
In the longer term, advocates and supporters of the LGBTQ community are backing the proposed Equality Act, which would amend current civil rights law to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, sex and gender identity in credit and housing as well as employment, public accommodations, public education, federal funding and the jury system. The House of Representatives passed the bill in February of this year, but it remains stalled in the Senate.