Federal Fair Housing Act

Susan Weber
Home buyers and renters are protected against discrimination.
Home buyers and renters are protected against discrimination.

The Federal Fair Housing Act is an important section of the Civil Rights Act which was passed in 1968. This detailed, housing-oriented portion of the high profile Civil Rights Act protects against housing discrimination in a variety of situations.

Housing Fairness is a Civil Right

The Civil Rights Act of 1968 included several individual laws that detailed the specific categories of civil rights. One of these laws was Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act, commonly called the Fair Housing Act. This far-reaching housing law was written to ensure that individuals are protected against discrimination in all types of housing transactions including:

  • Renting housing
  • Selling a home
  • Financing a home purchase

Exemptions

Most housing and housing transactions are covered under the Act; however, there are some exemptions. Specifically, the Act does not apply to rental, sale or financing transactions on:

  • Owner-occupied buildings
  • Single-family housing that is rented or sold without a broker
  • Housing that is owned or operated by private foundations or groups

Enforcement

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has the responsibility to administer the Fair Housing Act. HUD enforces the law through education and investigation.

  • Educational materials -both printed and online- are given to consumers when they rent or buy property. Materials explaining the consumer's rights against discrimination are also available to landlords, real estate professionals, brokers, lenders and all other individuals and groups involved in the housing market.
  • The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO), a section of HUD, investigates all complaints.

Federal Fair Housing Act: Protection Details

Under the Fair Housing Act, individuals are protected against discriminating housing decisions made on the basis of their:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Family status - single, families with children, pregnant women
  • Disability

Selling and Renting

The federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to take actions solely based on an individual's race, sex or other individual characteristics. It is illegal to:

  • Refuse to sell or rent a property
  • Make housing unavailable for sale or rent
  • Set different restrictions or terms for the sale or rental of the property
  • Provide different housing or services for different individuals

Mortgage Lending

The Fair Housing Act also protects individuals against being denied fairness in mortgage lending. Illegal lending actions include:

  • Refusing to provide information about a mortgage loan
  • Refusing to make a mortgage loan
  • Setting different terms, rates or conditions on a mortgage loan
  • Refusing to purchase a loan or setting special terms to purchase a loan

Facilities for the Disabled

Buildings which were built after 1991 must comply with the federal laws for disability access. These laws specify various factors that make a home more livable for the disabled such as door widths and counter heights that accommodate wheel chairs.Sometimes the disability access factors can be met; however, a disabled person may require additional changes to the property or the property rules to make it easier for the individual to use. The Fair Housing Act requires that a landlord work with the individual and make any reasonable changes to accommodate the disabled individual. For example, a blind tenant may require a landlord to allow a trained guide dog into a complex with a stated "No Pets" policy.

The Act does not automatically mandate a landlord to provide an individual with additional services or changes at no additional cost. The individual is required to work with the landlord to implement any necessary changes. The landlord can require the individual to pay for any required changes.

The landlord can also decide to only allow the changes if the individual agrees to restore the property to its original condition when they move out. For example, a deaf individual may require special lights to be added inside the unit to flash when the doorbell rings. The individual would have to pay for the installation of the lights and for the removal of the lights upon moving out.

Recent Changes

Several amendments have been made to the Act since it was originally passed in 1968. These amendments didn't change the basic anti-discrimination tenants of the Act; however, they did clarify some of the aspects of coverage, particularly as related to senior housing.

In 1988 an amendment was passed to exempt "senior housing" from many of the rules imposed by the Act regarding selling and renting to all types of individuals. For example, a senior housing facility can, but it is not required to, include families with children. In order to qualify as "senior housing" at least 80 percent of the occupied units must have at least one occupant who is at least 55 years old.

In 1995 the 1988 amendment was further changed by several provisions of the Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995 (HOPA). The changes included a provision that housing for individuals 55 years of age and older no longer had to have special facilities for the elderly.

Reporting a Violation

You need to file a complaint with HUD if you think you have been the victim of housing discrimination. You can file your complaint by:

Complaint Review

When a complaint is filed, the FHEO contacts the alleged violator and gives them an opportunity to respond to the complaint with their side of the story. The FHEO then investigates to see if there is any cause for the complaint. Within 100 days both parties in the complaint are notified whether the FHEO believes there is a potential violation of the Fair Housing Act.

If there is a violation, the violator is given a chance to correct or make amends for their actions. If they don't take action, a hearing is scheduled before a HUD administrative judge. At this point either party has the option to have the case removed from the HUD courts and instead have the case heard as a civil action in the federal courts.

Provisions can also be made with HUD to get immediate action where necessary. For example, if a buyer is denied the chance to buy a specific house, HUD can arrange for the sale of the house to another buyer to be blocked until the complaint is fully investigated.

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Federal Fair Housing Act