The Fair Housing Act prohibits a landlord from discriminating in the rental of housing based on sex. Federal law does not cover gender identity, sexual orientation, or marital status but many states do.
What Qualifies As Discrimination?
Discriminating by sex (forbidden by federal law) is broader than just denying or allowing only men or women to a rent an apartment. It includes preferences for men or women, only allowing men or women to access certain amenities, or unfairly applying rules based on a person’s sex. For example, violations can occur from curfews or guest policies that apply differently to men and women, sexual harassment by the landlord or their employees, taking adverse actions against the survivors of domestic abuse, exchanging repairs for sexual favors (i.e., “quid pro quo sexual harassment”), or persistent sexual advances by the landlord or their employees.
Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation
Federal law protects tenants from discrimination based on their sex. Some state laws also protect tenants from gender and sexual identity discrimination – these laws are quickly changing. A helpful resource to see a recent overview of which states protect these groups is found here: http://www.hrc.org/state-maps/housing
Discrimination by marital status is prohibited by some state laws, but not federal law. Where such state laws apply, discrimination includes advertising that prefers married couples, terminating a tenancy of someone once they become single, divorced, or married, or offering lower security deposits or fees to married couples.
In some circumstances, these rental discrimination rules do not apply to owner-occupied buildings with less 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.
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: https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/complaint-process. 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.
State and Local Laws
Laws differ heavily by state, county, and city. Use RenterPeace to see more specific laws for to a given apartment and to see comments from people in your area.
Documenting the Problem
For most problems, tenants should document their issues, notify their landlord (document this too!), and stay informed about their rights. Renterpeace is a free website that helps with each step of this process. Tenants use RenterPeace to more easily see applicable laws, track their problems, and much more. There's a reason RenterPeace was selected "Best of" legal apps for both Android and iOS. It also includes household management tools, like a chore manager and bill tracker. Try it - you don't even to login first.
Using Property Management
To stay updated and organized about the problems in their apartments, landlords should use a property management system. Many are expensive or have high setup fees, but using RenterPeace for landlords is free. It's complete with legal compliance tips targeted to their problems, maintenance tracking, tenant screening, money-saving grant information, and tenant chat. It makes managing properties easier and staying updated about status of rental properties a breeze. Try it today.