What is Fair Housing?

In 1968, Congress signed into legislation the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), which makes it illegal to discriminate against people in the sale or rental of housing. View the full text of the Fair Housing Act (FHA).

It is important to understand that there are legal forms of housing discrimination that are not protected by the fair housing laws. They include discrimination due to bad credit, low income, bad tenancy history and felony conviction, to name a few. Landlords do have the right to deny housing to people who do not qualify based on these criteria. However, it is illegal for landlords to discriminate against a prospective tenant or an in-place tenant based on specific protected categories.

Protected Categories

The protected categories as defined in the federal and state fair housing laws are listed below. Following that is a list of the types of complaints that are associated with housing discrimination. In order to make a housing discrimination case, there must be at least one protected category and at least one type of complaint.

The Federally Protected Categories

Race/Ethnicity  |  Color  |  Religion  |  Familial Status  |  Disability  |  National Origin  |  Gender

Race/Ethnicity: Under the fair housing laws, it is discrimination if a landlord, agent, seller, or bank to treat people differently depending on their race, color or ethnicity. You cannot be refused an apartment or loan, held to different eligibility standards, or evicted because of your race or color. It is illegal for a real estate agent not to show you properties in some neighborhoods or steer you to particular neighborhoods because of your race, color, or ethnicity.

Color: Coming soon.

Religion: Under the fair housing laws, it is discrimination for a landlord, agent, seller, or bank to treat people differently depending on their religion. You cannot be refused an apartment or loan, held to different eligibility standards, or evicted because of your religious practices.

Note: Under certain circumstances you may be prohibited from displaying religious symbols in windows (uniformity of design requirements) or from the conduct of certain religious practices (if the conduct causes an unreasonable disturbance to other residents).

Familial Status: Familial status” is whether or not a household has one or more children under age 18. Families with children are protected from discrimination under the fair housing laws. The children must be residing in the household either with a parent or guardian or with the written permission of a parent or guardian. The law also covers people waiting to adopt or give birth to a child. California law extends coverage to include the operation of licensed home day care services.

Additional resources: Occupancy Guidelines

Disability: “Disability” is defined as a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as caring for one’s self, walking, seeing, hearing, learning, or working. The law also protects people who have a history of having a disability or who are regarded by others as having a disability. Some examples of disabilities covered by the laws are mental retardation, major depression, paraplegia, and HIV or AIDS. Alcoholism and past drug addiction are also considered disabilities.

Additional resources: Reasonable Accommodations Guidance  |  Reasonable Modifications guidance

National Origin: Coming soon.

Gender: Landlords, real estate agents, home sellers, and banks cannot treat men and women differently. You cannot be refused an apartment, denied a loan, or subjected to different rules because of your sex. In addition, this protected category affords legal protections to victims of domestic violence, stalking and sexual harassment.

There are two types of sexual harassment: “quid pro quo” and hostile environment. “Quid pro quo” harassment is when a landlord demands sexual favors as a condition to your getting or keeping housing. Hostile environment harassment occurs when a landlord makes persistent or severe unwelcome sexual advances, such as lewd comments or touching. Both types of sexual harassment are illegal.

Additional resources: HUD guidance on Sexual harassment

The State Protected Categories

Sexual Orientation  |  Marital Status  |  Source of Income  |  Age  |  Arbitrary

Sexual orientation: Discrimination against a person based on his or her sexual orientation is prohibited under California fair housing law. A housing provider may not refuse to rent to a person who identifies as gay, lesbian or bisexual, even if it conflicts with his or her religious beliefs.

Marital Status: Landlords, real estate brokers, home sellers, mortgage companies, and banks cannot refuse to deal with you because of your marital status. They also cannot charge a higher rent, require a higher income, or impose different interest rates to unmarried households than to married households. If married households are allowed to combine their incomes to qualify then unmarried households must have the same opportunity.

Source of Income: “Source of income” is defined as legal, verifiable income paid directly to the tenant or his or her representative (such as a payee). Some examples of income types are Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), AFDC or CalWorks, unemployment insurance, veteran’s benefits, pensions, and wages. It does not include income paid directly to the landlord, such as a Section 8 voucher, or income from illegal activities.

Age: It is illegal under state law to discriminate against a tenant or prospective tenant on the basis of age. However, the law creates an exception that allows age discrimination in some, but not all, housing established to serve senior citizens.

Arbitrary: A landlord cannot discriminate on the basis of characteristics that bear no relation to the person’s ability to be a good tenant. The courts have in mind personal traits, beliefs, or characteristics, such as sexual orientation, age, personal appearance (such as tattoos, length of hair, or eye color), political party, or membership in a group.

Who Can Get Help?

Project Sentinel assists home seekers as well as housing providers with fair housing issues through counseling, complaint investigation, conciliation and education. For assistance, please call us toll free at (888) 324-7468 or email info@housing.org. All services are free and confidential.

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For further information email: info@housing.org or call 408-720-9888.