State and local fair housing laws mirror federal laws, but add additional protected classes. In Oregon, for instance, “marital status” and “source of income” are protected classes in addition to the seven federal classes. To these state and federal classes, cities may add additional protections. Eugene and Corvallis, for example are cities that add “age” to the list.
State, federal and local fair housing laws all prohibit discrimination in selling, renting or leasing activities, including advertising, because the buyer, renter or lessee is a member of a protected class. It would be illegal to refuse to sell a house to someone because of his or her familial status or race or religion or membership in any other protected classes. That means a seller, with limited exceptions applicable to senior housing, cannot refuse to rent or sell to a family with children.
In addition to outright refusals to sell, rent or lease, Oregon fair housing laws also prohibit such things as expelling a purchaser from real property, offering different terms or rent or even attempting to discourage someone from purchasing, renting or leasing real property because the person is a member of a protected class. Fair housing laws also prohibit discriminatory advertising of any kind.
Advertising discrimination can include using works in flyers or ads that indicate a preference, limitation, specification or discrimination based upon the purchaser being a member of a protected class. Newspaper associations publish long lists of words that are considered discriminatory or that should be used only with great care.
Fair housing violations can be quite costly. Several years in Oregon, a manufactured home park owner paid $50,000 for refusing to rent to families with children. Property owners who do not follow fair housing laws have to worry about government agencies bringing an enforcement action.
In Oregon, the enforcement agency is the Bureau of Labor and Industries; for the federal government it is the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
People who believe they have been discriminated against can bring a civil suit in addition to complaining to the government.
Fair housing advocacy groups sometimes dispatch “testers” who have different social, racial and ethnic backgrounds to see if each tester is treated the same. Realtors also have been trained to help clients navigate the intricacies of buying and selling property.