Chapter 5-Recognizing Housing Discrimination

Recognizing Housing Discrimination and Unfair Housing Policies and Actions

When looking at the sale, purchase, or rental of housing, including related lending and other practices, it is illegal to discriminate based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability.

Examples of Illegal Practices and Discrimination based on Protected Classes include:

  • Refusing to rent, sell, or negotiate housing
  • Setting different terms, conditions, or privileges for sale or rental of a housing unit
  • Imposing different sales prices or rents
  • Evicting a tenant or a tenant’s guest
  • Refusing to make a mortgage or provide other financial assistance for housing
  • Appraising a home differently because of its occupants or its neighbors
  • Charging higher interest rates and additional fees than normal
  • Limiting privileges, services, or facilities of an apartment complex
  • Assigning a tenant to a specific building or particular section of a community/complex
  • Denying or providing delayed maintenance and services
  • Falsely denying a unit is available for rent or a home is for sale
  • Making statements on advertisements that indicate a preference against a protected class

Learn more below about each specific class of discrimination


Race involves more than skin color discrimination. Race-based discrimination may also involve the individual’s hair texture, facial features, interests, habits, and cultural customs. Race tends to include much broader populations than color alone.

Examples of racial discrimination in housing can include:

  • a prospective landlord requiring applicants to submit a photo with their application
  • a rental application including a field for identifying race
  • a realtor refusing to show you a home in an upscale community
  • a lender charging you higher interest or additional fees because of your race
  • an online lender requesting a photo of you before processing your application


Skin color can be associated with a race, but it is not the same. Color may involve variations of lightness or darkness of skin pigmentation, but skin color may not imply a specific race. Color discrimination can occur between communities with different races or even within communities of the same race.

Examples of housing discrimination based on color:

  • Landlords refusing to rent to someone with dark skin
  • Realtors refusing to show homes in certain areas because the prospective buyer has “middle eastern” looking skin


Religious discrimination in housing can take many forms, but it revolves around the single difference of your religion. Housing providers, lenders, realtors, and others involved in the sales or rental processes may not treat you differently because of your religion, whether you have shared it verbally or whether they assume it based upon the clothing you wear, your language, or your personal grooming habits.

Examples of religious discrimination in housing might include the following:

  • Falsely telling a prospective applicant dressed in a hijab that there are no rental units available when a sign outside clearly states there are
  • A lender refuses to provide you a loan because they only work with borrowers of their own faith
  • An apartment identifies as a “safe Christian community” in its flyers
  • A realtor steers a prospective buyer away from looking at homes in one neighborhood to instead show homes in another neighborhood where many residents are of the same faith
  • A property manager allows Christmas lights but not non-Christian holiday decorations
  • An apartment complex allowing a community room to be used for parties and secular gatherings but not for religious purposes by the tenants.

NOTE EXCEPTION: If a religion, church, or faith-based organization runs a housing complex for non-commercial purposes and does not discriminate based on race, color, or national origin, it may give preference to adherents of its own faith.

National Origin

Often identified by discrimination based on the person’s limited English proficiency, this class of discrimination also extends protections to immigrants.

Examples of such discrimination include:

  • Being denied housing because you do not speak English
  • Being unfairly targeted by rules against immigrants
  • Being denied a housing application because of your immigrant status
  • A realtor refusing to show you homes for sale in a certain area
  • A realtor recommending homes for sale in a community for immigrants
  • Being denied housing because your manner of dress suggests you come from outside the country
  • Advertisements stating immigrants are not permitted or wanted
  • A landlord or seller requiring extra forms of identification, such as a Green Card, Passport, or Social Security Card.

Sexual Discrimination and Harassment

You cannot be denied housing or housing services based on your gender, and you have the right to housing and related services (e.g. maintenance) without being subjected to sexual harassment.

Examples of sexual discrimination in housing include:

  • Charging different rent based on gender
  • Quid pro quo situations where the landlord or representatives request or require sexual favors in exchange for services
  • The landlord or representatives make lewd comments about the tenant’s body or subjects the tenant to unwelcome touching, kissing, or groping

Personals identifying as LGBT may also have protections under the Fair Housing Act, HUD’s Equal Access Rule, or state and local anti-discrimination laws.

Familial Status

While local state and federal restrictions exist regarding maximum occupancy of dwellings, a property owner cannot deny your application because of your familial status, whether single, pregnant, foster parents (or in the process of becoming a foster parent), married, living together as an unmarried couple, or as the parent(s) of one or more children.

Here are a few examples of illegal discrimination based on familial status:

  • It is illegal for property owners to evict you if because a child has joined your family unless it causes your household size to exceed the legal limit.
  • It is illegal for property owners to force families with children to live on a specific floor (e.g. first floor or third floor).
  • It is illegal for property owners to refuse to rent to families with children.

NOTE EXCEPTION: Residential housing communities designated for older persons may include rules that exclude families and children based on age.


Persons with disabilities have legal protections provided by the Fair Housing Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). One or more of these laws and statues will apply to public or private entities that “own, operate, or lease places of public accommodation,” most private housing, government housing, public housing, federally-assisted housing programs and activities, and any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance (HUD).

Protected disabilities include “deafness, blindness, intellectual disabilities, partially or completely missing limbs or mobility impairments requiring the use of a wheelchair, autism, cancer, cerebral palsy, diabetes, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia” (HUD).

Examples of discrimination based on disabilities include:

  • Refusing to rent to someone with a disability without offering reasonable accommodations
  • Evicting a person with a disability without offering reasonable accommodations
  • Asking to see the tenant’s medical records or even the severity of her or his disability
  • Refusing to allow a disabled tenant to make reasonable modifications to the living unit at their own expense (e.g. lowering counters and sinks, modifying kitchen appliances, installing ramps)
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