According to the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan, “fair housing is the right to choose housing free from unlawful discrimination.” Americans are protected from discrimination while engaging in housing-related activities, including:
- Renting a unit
- Purchasing property
- Securing a mortgage
- Seeking housing assistance
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) notes that Americans cannot be discriminated against for their:
- National origin
- Sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation)
- Familial status
President Lyndon Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act on April 11, 1968, as an expansion of the Civil Rights Act following the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. President Johnson “viewed the Act as a fitting memorial to the man’s life work, and wished to have the Act passed prior to Dr. King’s funeral in Atlanta,” HUD explains. Within a year, HUD created the Title VIII Field Operations Handbook and instituted a formalized complaint process to arm those who might face discrimination.
April is now known as Fair Housing Month, forever commemorating this monumental piece of legislation.
What Types of Housing Are Covered by the Fair Housing Act?
HUD notes that the Fair Housing Act covers most housing, including private housing, public housing, and housing that receives federal funding. However, there are limited circumstances in which property owners are exempt, including:
- Owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units
- Single-family houses sold or rented by the owner without the use of an agent
- Housing operated by religious organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members
What is Prohibited by Fair Housing?
The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate against people seeking housing, which can include:
- Refusing to rent or sell housing
- Refusing to negotiate for housing
- Setting different terms, conditions, or privileges for the sale or rental of a dwelling
- Providing a person different housing services or facilities
- Falsely denying that housing is available for inspection, sale, or rental
- Making, printing, or publishing any notice, statement, or ad with respect to the sale or rental of a property that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination
- Evicting a tenant or a tenant’s guest
- Harassing the person
- Failing or delaying the performance of maintenance and repairs
- Discouraging the purchase or rental of a dwelling
- Steering individuals to specific properties based on protected characteristics
The Consequences of Violating Fair Housing Laws
Beyond the fact that discrimination is wrong, you can face steep penalties if you’re found to be in violation of fair housing laws. Potential penalties include:
- Receiving a charge against you by HUD wherein the U.S. Department of Justice may pursue the case on the plaintiff’s behalf
- Being responsible for the plaintiff’s compensatory damages (e.g., out-of-pocket expenses incurred while finding alternative housing)
- Having to pay a civil penalty of up to $16,000 for the first violation, $65,000 for two or more cases of discrimination up to seven years prior to the current case, and up to $100,000 if the Department of Justice is involved
Past fair housing infractions become a matter of public record, meaning it’s more important than ever for you to treat everyone prospective tenant equally.