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April 10th, 2009
The meaning of fair housing

Submitted by AMY DuBOSE
Association Executive
San Marcos Area Board of REALTORS®

Consider this scenario: You see a house you like and call the agent to make an appointment to show it to you. When you show up and he sees you, his attitude changes. The agent apologizes and tells you the unit is no longer available, and they don’t have any others.

Perhaps you are blind or disabled and have a service dog. When you meet with the landlord, she tells you she’s sorry, but the complex you’re interested in is pet-free.

Unfortunately, these are just two examples of housing discrimination that occur every day in the United States. Did you know that there are federal, state, and local laws that protect specific groups of people against housing discrimination?

April is national Fair Housing Month. And whether you rent an apartment, lease a house or are considering buying a home, it’s an important reminder to all of us that federal law prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, family status or disability is illegal. Local laws may add to, but not take away from the type of protected classes.

What is fair housing?

Many people don’t realize just how extensive fair housing is and the area it covers. “Fair housing” refers to those laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination in any activity relating to the sale or rental of housing, in the availability of financing or other related transactions, or in the provision of housing-related services. Established as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the

Fair Housing Act ensures the accessibility of housing to people regardless of certain racial, cultural or physical factors.

The Fair Housing Act covers most housing. In some circumstances, the act exempts owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, single-family housing sold or rented without the use of a broker, and housing operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members.

What’s prohibited?

To those who fall into one of the seven protected categories, the act offers protection against:

* Refusing to rent or sell housing.
* Refusing to negotiate for housing.
* Making housing unavailable.
* Denying a dwelling.
* Setting different terms, conditions or privileges for sale or rental of a dwelling.
* Providing different housing services or facilities.
* Falsely asserting that housing is not available for inspection, sale or rental.
* Attempting to persuade owners to sell or rent because a certain protected class, usually minorities, is “coming”. This practice is called blockbusting.
* Deny anyone access to or membership in a facility or service (such as a multiple listing service) related to the sale or rental of housing.

There are also guidelines that apply to mortgage lending if you’re trying to purchase a house. The

Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to:

* Refuse to make a mortgage loan.
* Refuse to provide information regarding loans.
* Impose different terms or conditions on a loan, such as different interest rates, points or fees.
* Discriminate in appraising property.
* Refuse to purchase a loan.
* Set different terms or conditions for purchasing a loan.

What a landlord can do

The following is a general list of what a landlord, owner or real estate agent can do when it comes to renting, leasing or purchasing a home. These are all reasonable measures to ensure protection for the owner, bank, landlord and you.

* Require a credit check and proof you have income to afford the apartment.
* Require documentation of the necessity for reserved parking or a service or therapy animal.
* Require you to pay for modifications to your apartment and require you to return the unit to its original state when you move out.
* Require the names of all people who will be living in the unit and the ages of anyone named as a lessee.
* Require that children and pets — including service animals — be properly supervised when outside the unit.
* Require a reasonable security deposit, consistent with other tenants or local standards.
* Require that all tenants — including children — respect the rights of other tenants and comply with all community regulations.
* Rent to the best-qualified tenant.
* Refuse to rent to a tenant who would pose a threat to other tenants because of illegal drug abuse or severe mental illness.
* Refuse to rent to tenants engaged in illegal activity.
* Exercise much more selectivity — even “discriminating” by the above definitions — when renting a unit in a two-, three-, or four-unit building a landlord or owner occupies.

What if there’s a problem?

If you think your fair-housing rights have been violated, you may can contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and fill out a Housing Discrimination Complaint Form. It’s available for download on HUD’s Web site (, or you can contact the HUD office nearest you. You have one year after an alleged violation to file a complaint with HUD, but it’s always wise to file it as soon as possible.

If you are disabled, HUD provides assistance, including a toll-free TTY phone for the hearing impaired (800/927-9275), interpreters, tapes and Braille materials, and assistance in reading and completing forms.

The bottom line is that fair housing is about providing equal housing opportunities to members of the protected classes. For more information about real estate in the Lone Star State, please visit

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3 thoughts on “The meaning of fair housing

  1. I live in a ver large complex. I just found out that people that have lived here for a few months less than my three years are paying $349 per month less than I do for a mirror image unit of mine. This seems unfair and what can I do?

  2. Its an informative article. This would help for those who are planning to avail housing plans or the likes. Good to have fair housing Act and to have a fair treatment in availing units and also with its prices range. Prices should be included in this housing act if not, provide another housing act. In this time of crisis, everybody is very money conscious.

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