Housing discrimination occurs when an individual belonging to a legally protected category of people experiences discrimination in renting or buying a home, getting a mortgage, obtaining housing insurance, seeking housing assistance, or in other housing-related activities.
There are a variety of federal and state laws which prohibit certain types of housing discrimination.
Federal Housing Discrimination Laws
Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (Fair Housing Act) is the primary federal law which prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, and in other housing-related transactions, based on:
- National origin
- Familial status (pregnancy, having children)
Additional federal laws that prohibit certain types of housing discrimination include:
- Section 109 of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 (race, color, national origin, religion, sex)
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (disability)
- Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (disability)
- Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 (disability)
- Age Discrimination Act of 1975 (age)
- Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 (sex)
Reporting Housing Discrimination
The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO), often referred to as HUD (Housing and Urban Development) is the federal agency which investigates housing discrimination complaints under the Fair Housing Act (including housing that is privately owned and operated), as well as other civil rights violations in housing and community development programs, including those funded by HUD (for example, failure to ensure meaningful access by persons with limited English proficiency).
If you believe you experienced housing discrimination, you may file a complaint with FHEO within one year of the alleged incident of housing discrimination. The agency will then give notice to the other party who allegedly committed the act of discrimination and then conduct an investigation.
During the investigation period, FHEO generally tries to mediate the case through what is called conciliation. If the complaint cannot be resolved voluntarily by an agreement and the agency investigation shows that the law has been violated, FHEO or the Department of Justice may take legal action to enforce the law.
Unless you have already signed a conciliation agreement or an administrative hearing for your complaint has already been commenced, you may also file a private lawsuit in federal court within two years of the most recent alleged discriminatory action even if you have already filed a complaint with FHEO.
While you must file the lawsuit at your own expense, if you cannot afford an attorney, one may be appointed for you.
Remedies and Penalties
If you win your case at a FHEO administrative hearing or in federal court, the remedies and penalties for housing discrimination may include:
- Compensation for actual damages, including out-of-pocket expenses and emotional distress damages.
- Injunctive relief, such as an order not to discriminate.
- Equitable relief, such as making housing available to you.
- Payment of reasonable attorney’s fees if you hired an attorney.
- Payment of a civil penalty to vindicate the public interest.
- Payment of punitive damages (federal civil suit only).
State Housing Discrimination Laws
States also have their own laws prohibiting housing discrimination which may protect different categories of people than federal housing discrimination laws and may have different remedies and penalties as well.
For example, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) prohibits housing discrimination based on a person’s race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, nationality, marital or domestic partnership or civil union status, sex, gender identity or expression, disability, affectional or sexual orientation, family status or source of lawful income or source of lawful rent payment (such as rental assistance from the Housing Choice Voucher Program formerly known as Section 8).
It is important to note that LAD does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of age in a housing context, and unlike the federal Fair Housing Act, there is no requirement that an individual first exhaust his or her administrative remedies.
The remedies available for housing discrimination under NJLAD are similar to the remedies available according to the federal Fair Housing Act. However, NJLAD provides for compensatory and punitive damages, but does not set a cap on recovery.
Housing discrimination complaints filed under state housing laws must be filed with the appropriate state agency or in state court. Check the links below to find more information about your state’s fair housing laws.
AK, AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, HI, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV, WY
You may want to consult with with a housing discrimination lawyer to find out whether it would be more advantageous for you to file a housing discrimination complaint under federal or state fair housing laws.
The information on this website is intended as general legal information only and should not form the basis of legal advice of any kind. Individuals seeking specific legal advice should consult a lawyer.