What Is the Fair Housing Act?

The fair housing act (FHA) was written to prevent and prohibit discriminatory practices in the housing market. As a part of the larger Civil Rights Act of 1968, the FHA covers real estate sales, rentals, and financing transactions and is meant to ensure equal treatment for all. Landlords found in violation of the Fair Housing Act can be prosecuted in civil court under federal law, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).   

Who Is Protected Under the Fair Housing Act?

Housing providers are required to offer equal opportunity for everyone. The U.S. Department of Housing prevents any form of housing discrimination based on the following identities. 

  • Race, color, and national origin: These classifications prohibit inquiring about racial background and showing partiality based on skin color, facial features, or hair texture.
  • Sex: Unfair treatment based on sex or gender orientation is not allowed. This includes but is not limited to sexual harassment.  Many states also include sexual orientation—be sure to check with your local government. 
  • Religion: Bias based upon religion, morality, or standards of belief is not tolerated.
  • Familial status: This classification protects families with minors, pregnant women, and older persons. You also cannot discriminate based on marital status.
  • Disability: Persons with physical and mental disabilities must be provided with reasonable accommodations in concordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Discriminatory practices directed toward any of these protected classes could result in a formal HUD complaint and subsequent consequences. 

What Types of Housing Are Included?

Almost all housing-related activities are subject to the regulations of the Fair Housing Act. Exceptions may be made under the following very limited circumstances:

  • Owner-occupied properties (no more than four units)
  • Single-family homes sold or rented by owner
  • Property managed by a religious organization
  • Community developments operated by private clubs (limited to members).

What Behavior Is Prohibited? 

Circumstances may vary, but the foundation of fair housing laws remain the same. Performing the following actions based upon the recipient’s race, color, national origin, sex, familial status, religion, or disability would be considered in violation of the Fair Housing Act:

  • Refusing to sell or rent
  • Imposing different standards, conditions, or privileges 
  • Making housing unavailable or denying housing availability
  • Harassment, including harassing guests
  • Marketing a property using preferential language
  • Eviction
  • Changing the price or imposing fees
  • Discouraging away from or encouraging toward certain areas or neighborhoods
  • Assigning to a particular area or community development 
  • Limiting privileges, access, or services
  • Delaying or failing to do maintenance or repairs
  • Trying to persuade neighbors to sell property 
  • Failure to make reasonable modifications to accommodate disabilities

Again, this list is suggestive rather than conclusive. Additional situations may fall under the Fair Housing Act, and therefore care should always be taken to ensure tenant (or potential tenant) equality throughout all landlord practices. 

In addition, the Fair Housing Act also covers financing practices in regards to real estate. mortgage lenders must not deny loans, create different loan terms, unfairly appraise properties, or otherwise discriminate based upon an applicant’s race, color, national origin, sex, religion, familial status, or disability. 

What Are the Penalties for Failing to Abide by the FHA Regulations?

Fair Housing Act regulations should be taken seriously, and there are steep fines for those who violate the FHA, such as by practicing racial discrimination. First offenses can see fines upwards of $20,000, second offense fines can exceed $50,000, and third violations can see fines greater than $100,000. These civil judgement fines are in addition to any damages and legal fees incurred. 

Landlords should practice the utmost integrity when interacting with renters and potential tenants to keep in accordance with FHA standards. Always keep good records to show a history of equal opportunity and fair treatment. 


Learn More on BiggerPockets: