The Fair Housing Acts prohibit landlords from taking any of the following actions based on race, religion, or any other protected category:
For more information, see Every Landlord's Guide to Finding Great Tenants, by Janet Portman (Nolo).
A tenant who thinks that a landlord has broken a federal fair housing law should contact a local office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the agency that enforces the Fair Housing Act, or check the HUD website at www.hud.gov. (A tenant must file the complaint within one year of the alleged discriminatory act.)
HUD will provide a complaint form (tenants can fill the form out online) and will investigate and decide whether there is reasonable cause to believe that the fair housing law has been broken. If the answer is yes, HUD will typically appoint a mediator to negotiate with the landlord and reach a settlement (called a "conciliation"). If a settlement is later broken, HUD will recommend that the Attorney General file a lawsuit.
If the discrimination is a violation of a state fair housing law, the tenant may file a complaint with the state agency in charge of enforcing the law. In California, for example, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing enforces the state's two fair housing laws.
Also, instead of filing a complaint with HUD or a state agency, tenants may file lawsuits directly in federal or state court. If a state or federal court or housing agency finds that discrimination has taken place, a tenant may be awarded damages, including any higher rent paid as a result of being turned down, an order directing the landlord to offer the rental to the tenant, and compensation for humiliation or emotional distress.
The federal Fair Housing Act and Fair Housing Amendments Act (42 U.S. Code § § 3601-3619, 3631) prohibit landlords from choosing tenants on the basis of a group characteristic such as:
In addition, some state and local laws prohibit discrimination based on a person's marital status, age, or sexual orientation.
Landlords can always select tenants using criteria that are based on valid business reasons, such as requiring a minimum income or positive references from previous landlords, as long as these standards are applied equally to all tenants.