Experiencing Discrimination During a Home Purchase? Here’s What to Do.
Over 50 years ago, Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act into law. The act was created in response to decades of redlining and discriminatory city policies which resulted in segregated communities and fewer opportunities for people of color to buy homes in established neighborhoods. The act’s original intent was to make race-based housing discrimination illegal.
Over the years, the list of protected characteristics under the Fair Housing Act has grown to include national origin, religion, sex, familial status, disability, and most recently sexual orientation and gender identity. Yet in spite of all this, the National Fair Housing Alliance reports that “there are over four million incidents of housing discrimination every year, and most go unreported.” How should you proceed if you are one of the homeowners that’s experienced this?
The fear of retaliation may contribute to the underreporting of discriminatory practices. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) notes that it’s illegal to threaten or intimidate anyone who is exercising their right to complain about a fair housing issue or to retaliate against a person who has filed a complaint.
If you feel you’ve experienced retaliation as a result of your involvement in a fair housing complaint, you should contact HUD to report the issue.
Housing discrimination isn’t always as straightforward as a landlord refusing to rent to a person of color. Discrimination comes in many forms. Knowing more about what qualifies as discrimination under the Fair Housing Act will allow you to protect yourself and others in the fight for equal housing opportunities.
- Steering: The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) defines steering as “the practice of influencing a buyer’s choice of communities based upon one of the protected characteristics under the Fair Housing Act.” NAR works hard to train and educate its agents to avoid this discriminatory practice. However, incidents of steering persist and can and should be reported when they occur.
- Harassment: Under the Fair Housing Act tenants and housing applicants are protected from two forms of harassment.
Quid pro quo harassment is defined as an unwelcome request or demand being made as a condition of the housing agreement. If a landlord were to demand a tenant go on a date with him or her or face eviction that would qualify as quid pro quo harassment.
Hostile environment harassment is defined as “harassment that is severe and pervasive enough that it interferes with a person’s ability to access and live in housing.” Threats, intimidation, and coercion would fall into this category.
- Ignoring Accessibility Requirements: If a prospective tenant is unable to access all areas of the property because the property is not ADA accessible, a complaint may be filed.
- Denying Reasonable Accommodations for Individuals with Disabilities: HUD notes that “all persons with disabilities have a right to request or be provided a reasonable accommodation at any time.” This can be something as simple as having housing-related documents sent to a third party or more complex like structural changes to the premises.
- Creating Rules Against Children: Homeowners associations and landlords are prohibited from creating rules that deny people with children access to housing. For example, setting an “adults only” rule for common spaces is discriminatory and should be reported.
- Altering Mortgage Policies: Mortgage lenders can’t alter their policies or deny an individual a loan because of any of an applicant’s characteristics protected under the Fair Housing Act.
- Providing Unequal Housing Conditions: Property owners must maintain equal policies and housing conditions for all of their tenants. If a property owner provides different terms and conditions to tenants based on their national origin, gender, or any characteristic covered under the Fair Housing Act, they should be reported to HUD for discriminatory practices.
Fair housing complaints must be filed within one year of the alleged discrimination. So, it is important to act quickly if you feel your rights have been violated.
There are a variety of ways to file a complaint:
- Online in English or Spanish.
- Via email by downloading a form and emailing it to your regional office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) office.
- By phone: 1-800-669-9777 or 1-800-877-8339.
- Through the mail by downloading a form and mailing it to your regional FHEO office.
Once you have filed a complaint, FHEO will begin their investigation process. The process may vary depending on the type of complaint you file. But, according to HUD, you can typically expect the following:
- Intake: When an individual reports possible discrimination, HUD will check whether a formal complaint can be filed under one of the laws they enforce.
- Investigation: After a formal complaint is filed, HUD will investigate the allegations.
- Conciliation or Voluntary Compliance: At any time, the parties can resolve the complaint under terms that are satisfactory to the parties and HUD.
- Legal Action: Where appropriate, HUD takes actions to enforce the law.
Discriminatory practices in housing are unacceptable. If you feel you have been discriminated against during a home purchase, you have rights and shouldn’t hesitate to take action. Taking a stand against these inequitable procedures can help to end housing discrimination.