Rental Discrimination By Race

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The Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from discriminating in renting based on race, color, religion, or national origin. The act (a federal law) provides no prohibition against discriminating based on immigration or citizenship status, but some states do offer such protection.

Prohibited Discrimination

Discrimination under the Fair Housing Act covers more than just the process of trying to sign a lease. Based on race, color, or national origin, a landlord cannot: refuse to rent housing; refuse to negotiate for housing; make housing unavailable; otherwise deny a dwelling; set different terms, conditions, or privileges for rental of a dwelling; provide different housing services or facilities; falsely deny that housing is available for rental; for profit, persuade homeowners to rent dwellings by suggesting that tenants of a particular race have moved, or are about to move into the neighborhood; or deny any tenant access to any organization, facility, or service related to the rental of dwellings, or discriminate against any tenant in the terms or conditions of such access.

Non-English Speakers

Landlords who treat a tenant differently because they don’t speak English may violate the Fair Housing Act. The law broadly states that setting different terms, conditions, or privileges based on one’s national origin is illegal and courts have found that treating foreign tenants less favorably because they don’t speak English is illegal. The inverse also applies in some cases. Landlords that don’t speak English cannot only accept tenants that speak their language to the extent that they are attempting to restrict the renting of their apartment to their own race, color, or national origin.

Describing the Neighborhood

It’s illegal to tell applicants that the overall racial demographics of an area in order to rent a place to them, whether in person or in writing. For example, stating that minorities are moving out of a neighborhood is considered a means of racial discrimination as a matter of law.

Screening Criminal Violations

Recently, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD, who enforces the Fair Housing Act) determined that blanket bans on all criminals have a disproportionate impact on minorities and are therefore illegal as de facto racial discrimination. Landlords are prohibited from denying applicants based on arrests, rather than criminal convictions. Additionally, when considering a tenant’s arrest records, landlords must take into account the nature of the crime, how long ago it happened, and otherwise, the extent to which the criminal history may actually endanger other tenants.


These rental discrimination rules do not apply to owner-occupied buildings with fewer than five 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. Non-commercial housing operated by religious organizations can restrict their housing to persons of the same religion.

Filing a Complaint

Under the Fair Housing Act, victims of rental discrimination have one year to file an administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and two years to file a private lawsuit. Tenants can learn more about how to file a complaint here: To file a complaint under state laws (i.e., for discrimination based on immigration or citizenship status), tenants should contact their state or local housing authorities.

By |February 21st, 2018|USA|

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