The Fair Housing Act: What it is and How it Protects You

If you’re planning to buy, rent or sell a home, apartment or other property, you’re entitled to certain rights under the Fair Housing Act. In honor of Fair Housing Month, we’ve developed an overview on this landmark legislation – and what it means for you.

The History of the Fair Housing Act

Also known as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the Fair Housing Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on April 11, 1968. The bill had actually been under consideration by Congress for two years beforehand, but hadn’t drawn enough support to pass. However, the April 4, 1968 assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a strong advocate of fair housing, underscored the importance of putting laws in place to protect all citizens against any form of discrimination, and Congress was finally spurred into action.

What the Fair Housing Act Includes

The Fair Housing Act originally prohibited discrimination against buyers or renters based on race, color, religion or national origin. In 1974, the law was amended to include protection against gender discrimination (which now also includinges sexual orientation and gender identifty). In 1988, another amendment was passed, adding protection for families, as well as for physically or mentally disabled individuals. Some states, such as California, have expanded upon the act in their own laws to include more protected classes.

What Does Housing Discrimination Look Like?

Housing discrimination can take many forms. Some of the most common include:

  • Refusing to sell or rent housing to someone on the basis of a protected identity.
  • Telling a prospective buyer or renter that housing is not available for rent or sale, even though it is.
  • Changing the terms and conditions of a sale or rental.
  • Advertising a preference for prospective buyers or renters of a certain race, color, religion, national origin, sexual identity or disability.
  • Charging higher fees (or offering to pay less to a sellers of a certain race, color, religion, national origin, sexual identity or disability).

How Can You Protect Yourself Against Discrimination?

The Fair Housing Act provides specific rules that buyers, sellers and renters have to follow;  unfortunately, not everyone always abides by those rules. What steps can you take to protect yourself, and what should you do if you feel that you are the victim of discrimination?

Know your rights. Take time to review the Fair Housing Act and familiarize yourself with its main principles. The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offer detailed descriptions of the law and your rights and responsibilities as a buyer, renter or seller. The more informed you are, the more easily you’ll be able to identify any forms of discrimination as you come across them.

Talk with your agent. If you’re enlisting the help of an agent to buy, sell or rent, have a conversation with them about Fair Housing. Agents are required by law to adhere to the Fair Housing Act, and you want to make sure they are looking out for your best interests.

File a complaint. HUD’s Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Office offers recourse for individuals and families who believe they are being discriminated against with regard to housing. Complaints can be filed online, over the phone, by mail or via email.

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