What Is the Federal Fair Housing Act?

Preventing Discrimination in Housing

Picture of Federal Fair Housing Act Protected Classes
Federal Fair Housing Act Protected Classes. CaiaImage/Getty Images

What Is the Federal Fair Housing Act?

The Fair Housing Act aims to eliminate discrimination in any housing related activities. The belief is that every class of people has the right to buy, rent or obtain a mortgage without being discriminated against because of their background.

When Was the Fair Housing Act Established?

Attempts at fair housing in America have been around since the mid-1800s, but it was not until the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s that any real change took place.

The Rumford Fair Housing Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were two of the first attempts to address discrimination. The real groundbreaking legislation, however, was the Fair Housing Act of 1968 which was established one week after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

Who Does the Federal Fair Housing Act Protect?:

The seven protected classes under the Federal Fair Housing Act are:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • National Origin
  • Disability (added in 1988)
  • Familial Status (having children under 18 in a household, including pregnant women) (added in 1988)

What Is Fair Housing's Mission?:

The Federal Fair Housing Act has a three part goal: 

  • In Home Renting and Selling:

    To end discrimination against the protected classes in any of the following ways:

    • Refusing to rent housing, sell housing or negotiate for housing.
    • Making housing unavailable or lying about the availability of housing.
    • Denying housing.
    • Establishing different terms or conditions in home selling or renting.
    • Providing different housing accommodations or amenities.
    • Blockbusting.
    • Denying participation in housing related services (such as a Multiple Listing Service).
  • In Mortgage Lending:

    To end discrimination against the protected classes in any of the following ways:

    • Refusing to make or purchase a mortgage loan.
    • Setting different terms or conditions on the loan, such as interest rates or fees.
    • Setting different requirements for purchasing a loan.
    • Refusing to make information about the loan available.
    • Discriminatory practices in property appraising.
  • It Is Also Illegal To:

    • Make discriminatory statements or advertise your property indicating a preference for a person with a certain background or excluding a protected class. This applies to those who are otherwise exempt from the Fair Housing Act, such as owner-occupied four unit homes.
    • Threaten or interfere with anyone’s fair housing rights.

Is Anyone Exempt From Fair Housing?

In certain cases, single family homes that are rented or sold without using a broker, owner-occupied homes with no more than four units, and members-only private clubs or organizations are exempt from the Fair Housing Act.

How Is the Fair Housing Act Enforced?

HUD (the Department of Housing and Urban Development) is responsible for enforcing the Fair Housing Act.

The two main ways they enforce it are:

  1. Fair Housing Testers- HUD hires people to pose as renters or home buyers to see if discriminatory practices are being used. As a landlord, you should always be careful what you say in person, on the phone and in rental ads.
  2. Investigate Discrimination Claims- Those who feel their fair housing rights have been violated under the Fair Housing Act can file a discrimination claim with HUD. HUD will investigate the claim, determine if there is any merit to it and decide if further legal action is necessary.

    How Can You Make Sure You Do Not Violate the Fair Housing Act?

    • Assume everyone works for HUD or is trying to accuse you of discrimination. Be careful what you say in person, on the phone and in your rental ads.
    • You must adhere to the terms of the Fair Housing Act, but you can rule out tenants based on other criteria. It is legal to deny a tenant based on poor credit, inability to pay rent or other information found when you run a credit check on them.
    • Be consistent in screening tenants. Go through the exact same practices for each prospective tenant who applies to rent your property. Require the same information, documents, referrals and fees.
    • Treat everyone with respect and dignity.

    Follow the Federal Laws, but Know Your State and Local Laws Too

    Many states have additional protected classes such as sexual orientation, age, and student status.

    Check your local and state fair housing laws to make sure you are following them as well.