Fair Housing Act

What is the Fair Housing Act?

Updated March 13, 2023

The U.S.’s Fair Housing Act was designed with the purpose of granting everyone equivalent access and consideration when buying or renting a residence, as well as in regards to financing, housing assistance or other housing-related matters. The law espouses that all people should have an equal opportunity when seeking housing without having to worry about preconceived notions or biases against them. The Fair Housing Act specifies discriminatory practices and behavior so landlords and lenders, as well as buyers and renters, can all be aware of what constitutes discriminatory behavior.

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Federal Housing Administration

Equal Credit Opportunity Act

The Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968, one of several pieces of landmark civil rights legislation enacted in the 1960s. The law passed four years after the Civil Rights Act, and one week following the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Under this law, no one can be discriminated against when seeking housing based on the following factors:

  • Nationality
  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Gender
  • Disability
  • Familial status (i.e. having children)

(Note: Gender discrimination was included in the act in 1974, while the latter two were added in 1988.)  

The U.S.'s Fair Housing Act was designed with the purpose of granting everyone equal access and consideration when buying or renting a residence. Credit: Unseen Histories/Unsplash

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) oversees and enforces the Fair Housing Act on a federal level. States can also add additional safeguards to this law under their provinces. For example, the New York State Human Rights Law includes additional protections against discrimination on sexual orientation, gender identity and military status, among other factors. But while states can strengthen the Fair Housing Act, they cannot dilute or eliminate its mandates. 

The Fair Housing Act applies to nearly all kinds of housing, although under “very limited circumstances,” exemptions can be made for owner-occupied buildings with four units or less, single-family houses sold or rented by the owner without the involvement of a real estate agent and housing belonging to religious organizations and private clubs that have selective membership.

What are examples of housing discrimination?

The HUD website lists examples of actions stemming from discrimination against one or more of the seven characteristics outlined above. These can include the refusal to rent or sell a residence to an applicant; establishing different terms, services or conditions for the sale or rental of a residence; employing different qualification guidelines or criteria as part of sale or rental procedures; imposing different sales or rental prices for a residence; falsely claiming that housing is available for inspection, sale or rental; refusing to offer a mortgage loan; applying different terms or conditions for the loan; protracting or not performing maintenance or repairs for certain tenants; and limiting or even restricting services and facilities of a residence. 

How can you file a complaint based on the Fair Housing Act?

For those who believe they have been discriminated against in a housing-related matter, they can file complaints with the Department of Housing and Urban and Development, or can file suit in either state or federal court. The Department of Justice can also bring lawsuits forward on the behalf of individuals via referrals from HUD.