Buying or selling a home is among the most critical moments an individual will encounter. Fortunately, fair housing laws exist to protect you from housing discrimination. Although the right to fair and equal housing is a fundamental aspect of modern society, it remains challenging for many individuals and communities.
In this post, we will explore the meaning of equal-opportunity housing in more detail, discussing its importance, the laws that protect it, and the challenges that persist today. Finally, we'll review what you can do in an unfair situation. Whether you are a buyer, seller, or simply interested in learning more, this blog will give you a practical understanding of equal-opportunity housing.
What does equal housing opportunity mean?
Equal housing opportunity, also known as equal opportunity housing, is a legal principle that prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, financing, or advertising of housing based on a person's race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability.
Equal housing opportunity means that every person has the right to live in the housing of their choice, provided they can afford it, regardless of their background or personal characteristics.
Who is protected by equal opportunity housing laws?
As a component of several legislative measures aimed at promoting equal housing opportunities, individuals looking to purchase a home cannot face discrimination based on any of the safeguarded characteristics below:
- National origin
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity
- Familial status
- Military status
- Marital status
- Whether any part of their income comes from public assistance programs like Social Security or Supplemental Security Income
- Whether an applicant for a mortgage or rental assistance has exercised any of their rights under the Consumer Credit Protection Act of 1968 or similar state laws
Rights and Responsibilities
Regarding equal opportunity housing, both home buyers and sellers have rights and responsibilities to abide by under the law.
As a buyer, it is within your rights to anticipate that housing will be accessible without discrimination or restrictions based on the abovementioned characteristics.
When it comes to lending, your qualification can only be assessed based on your objective financial characteristics. These may include factors such as your credit score and history and the amount of income and assets you have available for qualification purposes. Some specific laws may also apply depending on your particular circumstances.
As a seller or landlord of a home, it is both your responsibility and a legal requirement to refrain from any discrimination in the financing, sale, or rental of your property based on protected characteristics, including race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.
Instructing your licensed broker or salesperson to limit the sale or rental on your behalf is not permissible, as these professionals are likewise obligated by law to avoid discrimination.
Under the law, a seller or landlord cannot impose discriminatory terms or conditions for renting or purchasing a property, falsely assert that the property is unavailable, or advertise the property as only accessible to individuals based on the characteristics listed above.
Which laws protect equal opportunity housing?
Several laws protect equal opportunity housing in the United States. The most significant of these include:
- Civil Rights Act of 1866: The Civil Rights Act of 1866 prohibits all racial discrimination in selling or renting property.
- Fair Housing Act: The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, financing, or advertising of housing based on a person's race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability.
In addition to the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Fair Housing Act, other laws protect against housing discrimination. Some of these include:
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all aspects of public life, including housing. This law requires landlords to make reasonable accommodations to allow disabled individuals to access and enjoy housing.
- The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA): The ECOA prohibits lenders from discriminating against borrowers based on their race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, or whether they receive public assistance income.
- State and Local Fair Housing Laws: Many states and local jurisdictions have different fair housing laws that protect against housing discrimination. These laws may include additional protected categories not covered by federal law.
It's important to note that violating fair housing laws can result in significant penalties, including fines, damages, and injunctive relief. Therefore, landlords, property managers, and other housing providers need to be aware of their obligations under these laws and take steps to ensure compliance.
Housing Discrimination Challenges
Housing discrimination persists today in various ways, despite the laws and regulations designed to prevent it. Unfortunately, housing discrimination, especially racial discrimination, remains a prevalent issue in several places for renters and buyers in the U.S.
However, sellers, landlords, and bankers may engage in more discreet discriminatory practices, such as declining to present listings in a particular neighborhood or steering applicants from minority groups to areas where they are already well-represented, thus contributing to segregation.
These practices are often subtle and difficult to detect, making them challenging to prove and combat.
However, resources are available to help individuals who believe they have been victims of housing discrimination.
How to Get Help Against Housing Discrimination
What can home buyers do if they believe their housing rights have been violated? You can take several steps to seek help and protect your rights.
If you believe that you have been the victim of housing discrimination, you should first record the details of the discrimination thoroughly.
Lawyers advise that the most effective way to obtain the evidence required to build a case with local or state fair housing authorities or with the federal agency in charge of enforcing fair housing laws, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), is by carefully listening to brokers, agents, and lenders and taking detailed notes of the experience.
Moreover, if you suspect that you have been discriminated against based on your protected class, such as national origin, one effective method of proving it is to ask a friend who does not belong to that class to attempt the same action as you and keep a record of the outcome.
Next, you have several different options to take action. Pick the one you believe is the best for your specific situation.
Contact a Fair Housing Organization
Many non-profit organizations throughout the United States are dedicated to combating housing discrimination and advocating for fair housing rights. These organizations can provide you with guidance, resources, and support to help you file a complaint and pursue legal action if necessary.
File a HUD Complaint
You can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD investigates all housing discrimination complaints and may take legal action against landlords or other housing providers who violate fair housing laws.
Contact an Attorney
When considering legal action, you may consult with an attorney specializing in fair housing law. An attorney can advise you on your legal rights, help you navigate the complaint process, and represent you in court if necessary.
The principle of equal housing opportunity is a legal requirement and a fundamental human right. Promoting fair housing and equal opportunity in housing helps create more diverse, inclusive, and cohesive communities where everyone can live and thrive.
If you're interested in real estate and want to learn more about fair housing laws, sign up for one of our real estate courses.
Written and Published by: VanEd