The Fair Housing Act prohibits a landlord from discriminating in renting based on pregnancy, households with minor children, or households securing the legal custody of a minor child. Public amenities in an apartment complex cannot discriminate against children (e.g., “No children in the pool area”). Federal law does not protect against discrimination in the rental of housing based on marital status, but some states and local laws do.
Discrimination under the Fair Housing Act covers more than just the process of trying to sign a lease. Based on familial status, 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 protected class 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. For example, a landlord may not restrict tenants with children to a single portion of a complex.
Rights of Children
Discriminating against children is often an overlooked aspect of the Fair Housing Act. In addition to asking about children, landlords must also treat apartments with children equally as those without children. For example, prohibiting children from skateboarding or posting a “No children allowed” sign in front of a building laundry room is forbidden. A useful exercise is to mentally replace the word “children” with a specific race, and if the result seems racist or offensive, then a similar restriction against children is likely prohibited by the Fair Housing Act. For example, a “No Asians allowed” would be racist so therefore “No children allowed” will likely be prohibited by the Fair Housing Act.
The Fair Housing Act 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. Some senior housing facilities or communities can lawfully refuse to rent dwellings to families with minor children.
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.