Follow These 10 Rules To Avoid Fair Housing Trouble

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In celebration of Fair Housing Month, 2021, MHCO is highlighting 10 essential rules to help you to comply with fair housing law.


Housing discrimination has been outlawed for more than 50 years, but all too often communities still find themselves on the wrong side of the law and are forced to pay out thousands—and in some cases millions—in settlements or court awards, civil penalties, and attorney’s fees to get themselves out of fair housing trouble.




Rule #1: Don’t Discriminate Based on Race or Color

The FHA bans discrimination based on both race and color, two separate but closely related characteristics. In general, race refers to a person’s physical appearance and color refers to a characteristic of a person’s race, so discrimination claims based on color are often coupled with claims based on race.


Rule #2: Don’t Discriminate Based on National Origin

The FHA prohibits discrimination based on national origin, which means the geographic area in which a person was born or from which his or her ancestors came. National origin discrimination means treating people differently because they or their family are from outside the United States, or because they have physical, cultural, or linguistic characteristics of persons from a foreign geographic area.


Rule #3: Don’t Discriminate Based on Religion

The FHA prohibits discrimination based on religion, so it’s unlawful to refuse to rent to people, or to treat them differently, because of their religion. For example, it’s unlawful to show favoritism toward applicants who share your religious beliefs—or bias against—those of other religious faiths.


Rule #4: Don’t Discriminate Against Families with Children

Fair housing law prohibits discrimination because of familial status, which the FHA defines to mean households with one or more children who are under 18 years of age, where the child is living with: a parent: a person who has legal custody (such as a guardian); or a person who has the written permission of the parent or legal custodian to care for the child.


Rule #5: Don’t Discriminate Based on Sex

Under the FHA, it is unlawful to discriminate against applicants based on their sex. Making decisions about whether to accept or reject applicants based on their sex can lead to costly fair housing litigation, particularly when combined with allegations of discrimination based on familial status or other protected characteristics. 


Rule #6: Don’t Discriminate Based on Disability

The FHA prohibits discrimination based on disability. Under fair housing law, disability means a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. The list of impairments broadly includes a wide range of physical and mental conditions, including visual and hearing impairments, heart disease and diabetes, HIV infection, and emotional illnesses.


Rule #7: Carefully Consider Reasonable Accommodation and Modification Requests

Under the FHA, it’s unlawful to refuse to make reasonable accommodations in the rules, policies, practices, or services if necessary for an individual with a disability to fully use and enjoy the housing. In general, communities are required to make an exception to the rules, when requested, if it’s both reasonable and necessary to allow an individual with a disability to fully use and enjoy the community. 


Rule #8: Abide by Rules Banning Discriminatory Advertising

Under the FHA, it’s unlawful to advertise or make any statement that indicates a limitation or preference based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, or familial status. Liability for making discriminatory statements doesn’t require proof of discriminatory intent. Instead, the focus is on whether the statement would suggest a preference to an "ordinary reader or listener." The rules apply not only to verbal and written statements, but also to all advertising media, including newspapers, magazines, television, radio, and the Internet.


Rule #9: Watch Out for Potential Retaliation Claims

Under the FHA, it’s unlawful to "coerce, intimidate, threaten, or interfere with" anyone who has exercised a fair housing right—or anyone who assisted others in exercising that right. Because discrimination and retaliation are separate violations under fair housing law, you could face liability for retaliation if you take adverse action against a resident solely because he filed a discrimination complaint against you—even if the discrimination claim is ultimately dismissed.


Rule #10: Abide by Applicable State and Local Fair Housing Laws

To avoid fair housing trouble, it’s important to comply with not only the FHA, but also applicable state or local fair housing laws. Often, these state and local laws extend fair housing protections beyond federal requirements to ban discrimination based on: Marital status; Age; Sexual orientation and gender identity; Source of income; Military status; or Other protected classes.

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