- Eileen Zilch
National Fair Housing Month: What Is It, and Why Does It Matter?
April is National Fair Housing Month, celebrating the April 1968 passage of the Fair Housing Act. This national law prevents the discrimination of selling, buying or financing a house based on seven core factors: race, color, gender, country of origin, familial status, disability, and religion.
Passed in the late 60’s, the Fair Housing Act was put in place to protect the rights of prospective home buyers and prevent tenants from being taken advantage of by their landlords.
While it might be easy to think that housing discrimination problem was something that only existed decades ago, the reality is many people across the United States still struggle to secure a rental agreement or attain a reasonable mortgage.
By understanding the definitions of fair housing and its associated practices, you can better understand your rights, and the rights of others.
What Does the Fair Housing Act Do?
The Fair Housing Act is in place to prevent the segregation and discrimination of people seeking to rent, purchase, or sell a home. Below are a few examples of actions the FHA seeks to protect against:
Falsely denying that housing is available for inspection, sale, or rental
Evicting a tenant or a tenant’s guest
Harassing a person
Failing or delaying the performance of maintenance or repairs
Assigning a person to a particular building or neighborhood or section of a building or neighborhood
Refusing to make a mortgage loan or provide other financial assistance for a dwelling
Discriminating in appraising a dwelling
A comprehensive list of discriminations can be found at HUD.gov.
What Is An Example of Housing Discrimination?
Housing discrimination comes in many shapes and forms, but it can usually be grouped into four main categories: passive, overt, harassment, and steering.
Example #1: Mindy, a black woman, makes an appointment via email to come tour a starter home. The real estate agent is warm and friendly, and agrees to meet her the next day. Upon meeting Mindy, the real estate agent performs the tour, but afterwards suggests continuing their search in a different part of town “where she’ll feel more comfortable”. The next time Mindy is shown a house, she notices the neighborhood is predominantly African-American families. This is an example of steering.
Example #2: Dennis, a disabled Asian man, schedules an apartment tour over the phone. On the day of the tour, the apartment manager shows the property, but informs Dennis that there are no units available. Dennis learns the manager is intentionally withholding a rental application, and contacts HUD. After an investigation, it’s determined that there are indeed properties available for rent. This is an example of passive discrimination.
How to Spot Housing Discrimination
1. Pay attention to a realtor’s language.
Phrases like “I think you would be happier in this neighborhood”, “There are more people like you on this side of town” and “I don’t know if this location makes the most sense for you” may all seem tame enough, but can be red flags of racial discrimination.
If a realtor is pressuring you to amend your search based on geography with no ties to your agreed upon budget or housing amenities, this is a sign of discrimination.
2. Be aware of market rate, and don’t overpay
Financial discrimination in housing takes many forms, one of which is a tenant being asked to pay a mortgage or monthly rent that is substantially higher than market rate.
If you are asked to agree to a price that is higher than listing price or your mortgage rate seems inflated, ask for clarification. Check with your bank to view their posted rates, and don’t overpay.
3. Understand your rights
While a majority of discrimination takes place based on visual judgements (a woman wearing a burka is denied a rental application, a disabled veteran is told there are no available units), discrimination may also take place on a more passive level in the form of religious differences or political affiliations.
Tenants and prospective homebuyers are under no obligation to reveal their political or religious preferences to a property manager. And while revealing your financial status is important in the process of obtaining a credit check or securing a mortgage, you cannot be denied an application or property showing based on your financial situation.
What To Do If You Witness Housing Discrimination
Report any suspected discrimination to HUD, and be sure to collect any supporting evidence to help expedite the investigation.
Video, audio recordings, photographs, transcriptions, and eye witnesses all help investigators get to the bottom of discrimination claims quickly and effectively.
Community Catalysts Is Committed to Fair Housing Initiatives
Community Catalysts supports seniors, veterans, homeless, and other low income people by funding and developing quality attainable housing and services.
We are committed to upholding fair and equitable housing practices and honoring the dignity of all people, regardless of race, gender, economic status, religious affiliation, country of origin, familial status, or disability.
Learn more about housing discrimination and the Fair Housing Act HERE.
Have you been discriminated against in your search for housing? File a complaint HERE.