Fair Housing Act

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The Fair Housing Act is a federal act in the United States intended to protect the buyer or renter of a dwelling from seller or landlord discrimination. Its primary prohibition makes it unlawful to refuse to sell, rent to, or negotiate with any person because of that person's inclusion in a protected class.[1] The goal is a unitary housing market in which a person's background (as opposed to financial resources) does not arbitrarily restrict access. Calls for open housing were issued early in the twentieth century, but it was not until after World War II that concerted efforts to achieve it were undertaken.

The legislation was the culmination of a civil rights campaign against housing discrimination in the United States and was approved by President Lyndon B. Johnson one week after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Fair Housing Act was enacted as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, and codified at 42 U.S.C. 3601-3619, with penalties for violation at 42 U.S.C. 3631. It is enforced by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.[2]


The Fair Housing Act (Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968) introduced meaningful federal enforcement mechanisms. It outlaws:

  • Refusal to sell or rent a dwelling to any person because of race, color, disability, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.
  • Discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, or national origin in the terms, conditions or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling.
  • Advertising the sale or rental of a dwelling indicating preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, disability or national origin.
  • Coercing, threatening, intimidating, or interfering with a person's enjoyment or exercise of housing rights based on discriminatory reasons or retaliating against a person or organization that aids or encourages the exercise or enjoyment of fair housing rights.

When the Fair Housing Act was first enacted, it prohibited discrimination only on the basis of race, color, religion, and national origin.[3] Sex was added as a protected characteristic in 1974.[4] In 1988, disability and familial status (the presence or anticipated presence of children under 18 in a household) were added (further codified in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990).[3] In certain circumstances, the law allows limited exceptions for discrimination based on sex, religion, or familial status.[5]

In 2017, a federal judge ruled that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected classes under the Fair Housing Act.[6][7] As of May 2018, there is an additional pending effort to amend the Fair Housing Act to make this explicit (HR 1447).[8] In a meeting on May 16, 2018 with the National Association of Realtors (NAR), Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who is campaigning for his 16th term, said he believed that homeowners should be allowed to refuse to sell their home to gay and lesbian homebuyers. NAR disagreed and withdrew its endorsement of the Congressman over the matter.[9]

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development is the federal executive department with the statutory authority to administer and enforce the Fair Housing Act. The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development has delegated fair housing enforcement and compliance activities to HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) and HUD's Office of General Counsel. FHEO is one of the United States' largest federal civil rights agencies. It has a staff of more than 600 people located in 54 offices around the United States. As of August 2017, the head of FHEO is Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Anna Maria Farias, whose appointment was confirmed on August 3, 2017.[10]

Individuals who believe they have experienced housing discrimination can file a complaint with FHEO at no charge. FHEO funds and has working agreements with many state and local governmental agencies where "substantially equivalent" fair housing laws are in place. Under these agreements, FHEO refers complaints to the state or locality where the alleged incident occurred, and those agencies investigate and process the case instead of FHEO. This is known as FHEO's Fair Housing Assistance Program (or "FHAP").

There is also a network of private, non-profit fair housing advocacy organizations throughout the country. Some are funded by FHEO's Fair Housing Initiatives Program (or "FHIP"), and some operate with private donations or grants from other sources.

Victims of housing discrimination need not go through HUD or any other governmental agency to pursue their rights, however. The Fair Housing Act confers jurisdiction to hear cases on federal district courts. The United States Department of Justice also has jurisdiction to file cases on behalf of the United States where there is a pattern and practice of discrimination or where HUD has found discrimination in a case and either party elects to go to federal court instead of continuing in the HUD administrative process.

The Fair Housing Act applies to landlords renting or leasing space in their primary residence only if the residence contains living quarters occupied or intended to be occupied by three or more other families living independently of each other, such as an owner-occupied rooming house.


The Fair Housing Act has been strengthened since its adoption in 1968, but enforcement continues to be a concern among housing advocates. According to a 2010 evaluation of Analysis of Impediments (AI) reports done by the Government Accountability Office, enforcement is particularly inconsistent across local jurisdictions.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Fair Housing - It's Your Right - HUD". Portal.hud.gov. Retrieved 2015-07-06.
  2. ^ a b "Title VIII: Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity - HUD". Portal.hud.gov. Retrieved 2015-07-06.
  3. ^ "40 Years Ago: Fair Housing Act Amended to Prohibit Discrimination on Basis of Sex". nlihc.org. 4 August 2014.
  4. ^ "Exemptions to the Fair Housing Act? Not Many -- But Here Are Some". Fox Rothschild LLP. Retrieved February 26, 2018.
  5. ^ Barbash, Fred (6 April 2017). "Federal fair housing law protects LGBT couples, court rules for first time". Washington Post. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  6. ^ "Fair housing ruling: Denver federal Judge Raymond Moore ruled that a landlord's refusal to rent to a lesbian couple violated federal housing law". Washington Post. 5 April 2017. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  7. ^ "H.R.1447 - Fair and Equal Housing Act of 2017". Congress.gov. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  8. ^ Wang, Amy (26 May 2018). "Refusing to sell homes to gay people is okay, GOP congressman says. Realtors disagree". Washington Post. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  9. ^ "PN1349 — Anna Maria Farias". washingtonexaminer.com.
  10. ^ US Government Accountability Office (2010). "Housing and community grants: HUD needs to enhance its requirements and oversight of jurisdictions' fair housing plans".

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