Are you considering purchasing a new home in Texas but need help understanding the fair housing laws? No matter who you are or where you come from, you deserve the golden opportunity to buy, rent, or insure a property in Texas.
That's why the Texas Fair Housing Act (TFHA) exists. It protects you from individuals trying to deny you access to these opportunities. Before searching for a new home, it's crucial to comprehensively understand how these housing discrimination laws work.
Fair Housing Laws Texas
Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), people are protected from discrimination when they are:
- Renting or buying a property
- Applying for a mortgage
- Requesting housing assistance
- Engaging in other housing-related activities
However, Texas has its own fair housing law, the Texas Fair Housing Act (TFHA). It’s very similar to the standard FHA. The two significant distinctions are:
- Texas has a specific procedure for processing complaints
- TFHA is slightly more explicit than the federal Fair Housing Act
The Texas Fair Housing Act is enforced by the Civil Rights Division of the Texas Workforce Commission. Additionally, fair housing options are developed by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.
Keep in mind, Texas has different fair housing laws in several cities. It’s best to contact your city to find out the regulations specific to your city.
What does the Texas Fair Housing Act Cover?
The Texas Fair Housing Act (TFHA) protects your rights when:
- Renting or buying a home
- Renting or buying vacant land
- Taking out a mortgage
- Buying property insurance
Moreover, the FHA prohibits discrimination in housing based on:
- Sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation)
- National origin
- Familial status
Housing Discrimination Based on Familial Status
Some protected groups, like race or religion, are straightforward. But others, such as family, can be challenging to understand.
Familial status refers to what type of family situation you’re in. Texas housing laws prohibit discrimination against you for:
- Being pregnant
- Being a single parent
- Having kids under 18
- Trying to get custody of kids under 18
Housing Discrimination Based on Disability
According to the Texas Fair Housing Act, a disability is a physical or mental condition that severely limits at least one major life activity.
Some examples include:
- Using a wheelchair
- Having a chronic illness
- Struggling with PTSD
Anyone who resides in your home, such as a child, spouse, or adult relative, or visits you is subject to this regulation.
What is not covered by the Texas Fair Housing Act?
The Texas Fair Housing Act was designed to help individuals looking for a new home, yet it still has certain loopholes. Technically, discrimination is still possible if based on:
- Sexual orientation. Some states have fair housing laws protecting this, however, as unfair as it sounds, Texas doesn’t.
- Marital status. Surprisingly, landlords in Texas can reject your application for being single (or for being married).
- Drug or illegal substance addiction. Addiction impairs people’s lives, but it isn’t a legal disability. Therefore, a person with a known drug addiction is not protected by the TFHA.
- Specific criminal convictions. You may be denied of renting or purchasing a house in Texas if you've been found guilty of producing or distributing drugs in any state.
- Threat of harm. The landlord or seller may refuse to rent to a disabled person if they directly endanger the neighbors' health, safety, or property.
- Income source. Mortgage lenders have the right to reject your loan request if they believe you will need to make more money or if you have a significant chance of losing your job and being unable to meet payment deadlines.
The Texas Fair Housing Act covers most housing. However, owner-occupied structures with no more than four units, single-family homes sold or rented without a broker, and properties run by organizations and private clubs that only allow members to live there are some exceptions to the law.
Furthermore, the rules prohibiting discrimination based on a person's familial status may not apply to housing developments that meet the criteria for being designated as housing for people 55 and older.
Equal Housing Opportunity Texas
Equal opportunity housing, sometimes called "equal housing opportunity," refers to the idea that everyone has the same right to a fair process regarding property financing decisions. Under these laws, you also have a right to rent accommodation where you wish, if you can afford it.
The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) is an agency within the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). FHEO is responsible for implementing and enforcing federal fair housing laws and establishing policies that ensure all Americans have equal access to the housing of their choice.
Everyone deserves fair housing and equal opportunity. As a buyer, you have the right to reside anywhere you choose, regardless of your position in a protected class. As a seller, you must avoid discrimination against potential buyers and give everyone an equal opportunity to purchase the house they want.
Fair Housing Violation Penalties
So, what happens if you face landlord discrimination or experience a Texas fair housing violation? If this occurs, the party violating the Texas Fair Housing Act will be severely penalized.
If you believe you have been a victim of housing or rental discrimination, you have two options for dealing with it:
- You can file a complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC)
- You can sue the other person in civil court
The TWC has the power to order the defendant to cover your costs, including court costs, attorney fees, and other fees. They will also be subject to civil fines, including:
- $10,000 for one violation
- $25,000 for two offenses in the last five years
- $50,000 if they’ve committed two or more offenses in the last seven years
These fines are paid to the Texas comptroller, who serves as the state's “chief financial officer.”
Civil Court Penalties
You may be granted financial compensation, legal fees, and court expenses in addition to an injunction or restraining order. Additionally, the offender may be penalized $50,000 for a first offense and $100,000 for a second.
Housing discrimination can result in criminal penalties, not just civil ones. For instance, in Texas, it is a Class A misdemeanor to use force or threats to prevent you from renting or purchasing a property. This is punishable with a fine of up to $4,000 and up to one year in jail.
Avoid Housing Discrimination in Texas
Don’t put up with housing discrimination when searching for your new home. How can you make sure this doesn’t happen? Start by finding a real estate agent that you trust to help you find the perfect home.
Or if you’re here to learn more about real estate, sign up for one of our online real estate courses.
Written and Published by: VanEd