West Virginia protects tenants from discriminatory practices by their landlord based on their religion. Tenants also have similar protections under federal law.
Discrimination covers quite a bit more than just landlords who refuse to rent to certain religions. Discrimination includes:
- denying a loan based on their religion
- charging different rent or offering different amenities based on religion
- refusing to make reasonable accommodations based on a tenant’s religion
- denying an apartment or application based on their religion
- interfering with a tenant’s use and enjoyment of the property based on their religion
- pressuring a tenant to rent or not rent based on people of a certain religion in the neighborhood
- advertising an apartment that’s for or not for a person based on their religion
- falsely stating an apartment is not available because of the tenant’s religion
- denying an applicant the opportunity to inspect the apartment based on their religion
Exemptions for Religious Organizations
In West Virginia, religious organizations are exempt when they restrict entry into their housing or apartments based on membership to their organization. This only applies in the rare cases when the property owner or landlord is itself a religious organization, not when the landlord is a person who is merely a member of a religious group. This exemption may have restrictions on the types of things an organization can discriminate based on, such as race or gender identity. W. Va. Code 5-11 .
Some religions are related to a tenant’s race or nationality, such as Judaism and Hinduism. 1987 Supreme Court case , Recent lower-level case . Both race and nationality are also protected from discrimination under West Virginia and federal laws offering additional protection to landlords who discriminate against such tenants. W. Va. Code Sec. 5-11 .
Discussing Neighborhood Demographics
In West Virginia, landlords violate state law if they discuss the religious demographics of the neighborhood with prospective tenants. For example, describing a neighborhood as having increasingly more Christians would violate the state’s law as a way to sell an apartment is considered religious discrimination. Inversely, it’s also discrimination for a landlord to say that a tenant may be interested in a more expensive apartment because the alternative is in a “bad” neighborhood due to the religious demographics in the area. To be safe, landlords should not discuss the racial or religious demographics of a neighborhood, even if asked directly by the tenant. 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 their religion 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. 0 out of the 16 discrimination complaints from West Virginia were about discriminatory acts based on the tenant’s religion. 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.