What Buyers Need to Know About the Fair Housing Act

What Buyers Need to Know About the Fair Housing Act

It’s officially National Fair Housing Month, which celebrates the groundbreaking passage of the Fair Housing Act over five decades ago.

If you’re not familiar with the law or the protections it includes, now’s a great time to learn — especially if you’re planning on buying or renting a new property soon. 

At its core, the Fair Housing Act protects Americans from discrimination in the housing process. That includes discrimination when working with a real estate agent, when getting a mortgage loan, or when applying for an apartment or rental (among any other housing-related scenarios).

Are you thinking about renting or buying a new home in the near future? Here’s what you need to know about the Fair Housing Act’s protections — as well as what to do if you’re discriminated against.

How the Fair Housing Act protects you

The Fair Housing Act is meant to protect Americans from being discriminated against when seeking to buy, rent, or finance their housing arrangements. It was passed in 1968 and is technically Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act.

Under the law, you can’t be discriminated against for anything relating to your:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Familial status
  • Disability

Just recently, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development expanded “sex” to include both a person’s sexual orientation and their gender identity (not necessarily their biological gender). This was due to a Supreme Court ruling, which expanded the Civil Rights Act protections similarly. 

What housing discrimination looks like

Housing discrimination can take many forms. It could be a mortgage lender quoting you higher rates because of your race or nationality, or it may be a real estate agent steering you toward a certain community or rental property due to your familial status or disability. Rental advertisements that cater to specific types of tenants can be discrimination, too.

If someone takes one of the following actions based on your race, color, sex, disability, familial status, national origin, or religion, it’s likely a violation of the Fair Housing Act:

  • Refusing to rent or sell you a property
  • Making a house or rental unit unavailable or inaccessible to you
  • Offering different terms or conditions for the sale or rental
  • Denying that a home or unit is available 
  • Showing bias in who can rent or buy a property in listings or marketing materials
  • Using different qualifying criteria than other buyers or renters are held to
  • Evicting or harassing you
  • Discouraging you from buying or renting a particular property

HUD has a variety of examples of housing discrimination available, and not all of them are as obvious as you might think. Sometimes, discrimination is very subtle — like a real estate broker “suggesting” a neighborhood that’s very heavily one nationality or race (because it matches yours). 

What to do if you’re discriminated against

If you feel you’ve been discriminated against at some point in the housing process, you can report it to HUD in a variety of ways.

Here are your options:

  1. File an online complaint using this form.
  2. Fill out this form, and email it to your local Fair Housing Enforcement Office. You can find contact information for each regional office here.
  3. Call an FHEO officer at 1-800-669-9777 or 1-800-877-8339. You can also use the phone numbers noted on the page linked above.
  4. Print and fill out this form. Then mail it to your regional FHEO (addresses are on the page linked in No. 2).

When reporting the event, you’ll need your name and address, as well as the name and address of the person you’re filing the complaint against (or the organization, if it’s an entire company.) You will also need to include a description of what happened and the date on which it occurred. 

Don’t be scared to report it

Don’t let fear of retaliation deter you from reporting discrimination. For one, your complaint could be what prevents other buyers or renters from getting discriminated against in the future. So reporting these acts? It’s critical if we want to reduce housing discrimination as a nation.

On top of this, the Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for any person or organization to retaliate due to a complaint. Anyone who does could be prosecuted. (Unfortunately, it does occasionally still happen. If you think you’ve been retaliated against for reporting discriminatory actions, contact your Fair Housing office and file another report.)

The bottom line about the Fair Housing Act

As a buyer, renter, and certainly a mortgage borrower, the Fair Housing Act is there to protect you from discrimination and other illegal treatment. Rest assured, Embrace Home Loans is committed to upholding this historic law, as well as its recently expanded protections for LGBTQ borrowers. Get in touch with an Embrace Home Loans office in your area for more information about buying or refinancing a home.

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Aly Yale

Aly J. Yale is a freelance writer focusing on real estate, mortgage, and the housing market. Her work has been featured in Forbes, Bankrate, The Motley Fool, Business Insider, The Balance, and more. Prior to freelancing, she served as an editor and reporter for The Dallas Morning News. She graduated from Texas Christian University's Bob Schieffer College of Communication with a major in radio-TV-film and news-editorial journalism. Connect with her at AlyJYale.com or on Twitter at @AlyJwriter.