Understanding Fair Housing Laws

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It’s painful to think that there was a time in American history when discrimination was the accepted practice and not the exception. It took the death of civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. and the actions of President Lyndon Johnson to begin the end of housing discrimination.

The Fair Housing Act

Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 is also known as the Fair Housing Act. It makes it illegal to discriminate against another on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender and familial status. The Fair Housing Act covers all housing-related transactions, including:

Lenders, mortgage companies, real estate agents and brokers, landlords, banks and municipalities are all forbidden from engaging in housing discrimination under fair housing laws.

If you feel you have been denied housing in violation of your rights, file a complaint with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). There are several ways in which to file the complaint:

  • File a complaint online at the HUD website.
  • Call HUD at 800-669-9777.
  • Print out and mail the complaint form, supplied on HUD’s website.
  • Write a letter and mail it to HUD.

Other Fair Housing Laws and Exemptions

Some states or municipalities may have additional laws that prohibit discrimination based on other factors, such as sexual orientation or military service.

Retirement communities, those that only rent or sell to people over a certain age -- typically 55 – are exceptions to fair housing laws. In addition, the Fair Housing Act may not apply to certain kinds of dwellings, such as an owner-occupied building that does not have more than four rental units, or housing for members of a religious community.

The Equal Credit Opportunity Act

The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), is another anti-discrimination law. The ECOA forbids creditors from discriminating based on race, color, religion, gender, national origin, marital status, age or source of income (such as Federal assistance). Sometimes called the “fair lending act,” this law helps to ensure equal access to credit and may limit predatory lending.

However, it does not guarantee that you will be offered credit if you apply for it, or on what terms you will be offered credit. It also does not necessarily forbid creditors from asking questions related to gender or marital status on a credit application, though it does prohibit them in considering those factors when they make a determination about credit offerings. The law covers banks, mortgage brokers, credit card companies and other lenders.

If you believe your credit denial is in violation of the ECOA, you do have recourse.

  • Appeal to the creditor to reconsider the decision.
  • Take your case to the Attorney General’s office to determine if there has been a violation of your rights under the law.
  • You have the right to sue the creditor in a court of law. Consult with an attorney on how to proceed.
  • Ask the creditor to supply you with the name, address and phone number of which agency to should contact to report the violation. Lenders are legally obligated to supply you with this information.

Additional Help is Available

Many states and cities have fair housing centers that will work with you to understand federal and state laws regarding housing. Check your state’s official website for details.


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Lloyd Binen
Certified Realty Services - Saratoga, CA
Silicon Valley Realtor since 1976; 408-373-4411

Eric, the state of CA emphasizes Fair Housing in licensing and continuing education classes.

Apr 04, 2012 10:42 AM #1
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Eric Proulx

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