West Virginia protects tenants from discriminatory practices by their landlord based on their race, color, national origin, and ancestry. Similarly, tenants also have protection under the federal law from discrimination based on their race, color, and national origin.
Discrimination is broader than just saying a certain race cannot rent an apartment. Discrimination includes:
- denying an apartment or application based on their race, color, national origin, or ancestry
- advertising an apartment that’s for or not for a person based on their race, color, national origin, or ancestry
- denying an applicant the opportunity to inspect the apartment based on their race, color, national origin, or ancestry
- refusing to make reasonable accommodations based on a tenant’s race, color, national origin, or ancestry
- denying a loan based on their race, color, national origin, or ancestry
- pressuring a tenant to rent or not rent based on people of a certain race, color, national origin, or ancestry in the neighborhood
- charging different rent or offering different amenities based on race, color, national origin, or ancestry
- falsely stating an apartment is not available because of the tenant’s race, color, national origin, or ancestry
- interfering with a tenant’s use and enjoyment of the property based on their race, color, national origin, or ancestry
Landlords that have language requirements for their apartments may be discriminating against tenants based on their national origin. Landlords that are working with tenants that speak other languages can now easily use free online translation services to communicate with their tenants. HUD Guidance on Non-English Speaking Tenants.
Discussing Neighborhood Demographics
In West Virginia, landlords violate state law if they discuss the racial demographics of the neighborhood to prospective tenants. In particular, the law prohibits landlords from pressuring a tenant to rent (or to not rent) based on a description of the racial demographics in the region. W. Va. Code Sec. 5-11 .
Exemptions for Second Homes
West Virginia includes an exception intended for landlords who are renting out their second homes. The law is intended to reduce the compliance burden for such non-professional landlords. Specifically, landlords who rent fewer than 4 single-family houses do not have to abide by most of the discrimination laws.
Such exemptions do not typically apply to discriminatory advertising (e.g., “Only accepting tenants over 40”) or where the landlord uses a professional property manager.
Exception for Landlord-Occupied Homes
West Virginia has an exception called the “Murphy Rule”, which is intended to allow landlords to rent out extra rooms in their home without a large compliance burden. If the apartment is in the landlord’s own residence, then the landlord is free to discriminate regarding whom they rent to. This exception only applies to smaller homes, specifically where the house or building has four or fewer apartment units.
This exemption does not typically apply to advertising (e.g., “Only accepting white tenants”) or where the landlord uses a professional property manager or other real estate professional. Some states may have additional see restrictions. See state law for more details.
Tenants may report discrimination regarding familial status, children, or pregnancy to the federal government directly. They also have the option in West Virginia to report it to state authorities. Tenants may choose to report the problem to both.
What happens when a tenant reports a problem to the federal government? The most recent year we have data is from 2016. In 2016, 63.4% (25.0% from West Virginia) of discrimination cases were resolved in the year they were filed. 2 out of the 16 discrimination complaints from West Virginia were about discrimination against children, familial status, or pregnancy. Landlords that violate the federal Fair Housing Act can face civil penalties up to $16,000 for a first violation and $65,000 for future violations (each act of discrimination is a separate violation). In cases where the Justice Department is involved, civil penalties may rise to $100,000 per violation and federal courts can add additional damages. Landlords should also keep in mind the time and costs involved in defending against an action by the federal government. About 36% of complaints end up with a charge or settlement, based on 2016 data. Data.gov
What happens when a tenant reports a problem to the authorities of West Virginia or a local government? They may ask the tenant for information to help bring the case, including any evidence (e.g., emails and pictures). If the government finds there’s sufficient information between the tenant’s complaint (as well as complaints from other tenants), the landlord may be charged and taken to court to defend themselves. Landlords will likely receive fines if they lose. The amount of the fines will be determined in part by the severity of the issue. Fines increase significantly for repeat offenders. W. Va. Code 5-11 , W. Va. Code Sec. 5-11 . W. Va. Code 5-11 , W. Va. Code Sec. 5-11 .
Reporting a Violation
Tenants may report violations of federal laws (i.e., discrimination against children and families) through the HUD website – it can be done online or via phone. Tenants can report issues to their state government by looking at the state website. A google search for “report fair housing violation in West Virginia” will likely provide applicable information. In either case, tenants may be able to call the number on the page to ask whether their situation legally qualifies as rental discrimination.
Retaliation by the Landlord
Federal law (the https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/online-complaintFair Housing Act ) makes it illegal for landlords to harass a tenant in retaliation for reporting a problem. Examples of such harassment may include raising the rent or threatening to evict the tenant. Each such attempt is an additional violation. These protections do not apply if the tenant complained about something that they don’t have right to, so tenants should know whether it’s a violation. Dept of Housing and Urban Development.