What is the Fair Housing Act, and Who is Protected?
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a federal act of the United States that protects buyers and renters of a dwelling from discrimination based on their membership in a protected class. The classes that are protected under the FHA are:
- Race - People cannot be treated differently because of their race or personal characteristics associated with race
- Color - People cannot be treated differently because of their skin color or complexion
- National Origin - People cannot be treated differently because of their place of origin or ancestry or because they have physical, cultural, or linguistic characteristics of a specific or particular national origin group
- Religion - People cannot be treated differently because of their religious observance, practices, and beliefs
- Sex - People cannot be treated differently because of their gender; this includes gender identity, protections for domestic violence survivors, and prohibiting sexual harassment
- Familial Status - People cannot be treated differently because they have children under the age of 18, are pregnant, are trying to adopt, or have custody or guardianship of children under the age of 18
- Handicap (Disability) - People cannot be treated differently because of a physical or mental disability
What Conduct is Prohibited Under the FHA?
If done on the basis of membership in a protected class, housing providers cannot:
- Refuse to rent or sell
- Refuse to negotiate for housing
- Make housing unavailable
- Deny housing
- Create different terms, conditions, or privileges for sale or rental of a dwelling
- Apply different terms that are harder for members of a protected class to meet
- Provide different housing services or facilities
- Print or publish any statement indicating preference, limitation, or discrimination
- Falsely deny that housing is available for inspection, sale, or rental
- Refuse to make reasonable accommodations and modifications for people with disabilities
- Construct new multi-family dwellings that are inaccessible for people with disabilities
- Discriminate in financial or brokerage services
- Threaten, intimidate, coerce, or retaliate
- Engage in steering
- Engage in blockbusting
What is Covered?
The FHA covers any dwelling - any building or structure which is occupied, designed or intended for occupancy as a residence. This includes:
- Public housing
- Private housing
- Vacation homes
- Residential hotels
- Migrant housing
- Nursing homes
- Group homes
- Homeless and domestic violence shelters (where people stay for extended periods of time)
What is a Reasonable Accommodation or Modification?
A reasonable accommodation is a change in a rule, policy, practice, or service of a housing provider that may be necessary to allow a person with a disability the equal opportunity to use and enjoy their home. A waiver of a "no pets" policy to allow a person with a disability to have an assistance animal in the home is an example of a reasonable accommodation. A reasonable modification is a physical change to a dwelling that may be necessary for a person with a disability to use and enjoy their home. The installation of a wheelchair ramp is an example of a reasonable modification.
A request for a reasonable accommodation or modification can be made to a housing provider in writing or verbally. It's best to have the request in writing, but it is not necessary. Legal Aid has developed a guided interview that will help draft a letter requesting a reasonable accommodation or modification from a housing provider. After answering a series of questions, a request letter will generate that can be passed along to a housing provider.
Click here to begin the interview.