Fair Housing Laws

Federal as well as state and local fair housing laws apply to residential renting.

Federal Fair Housing Act.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in rental decisions against a person who is a member of a protected class, which includes race, color, disability, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin. Rental advertising that indicates a preference, limitation, or discrimination based on a protected class is a violation of the Fair Housing Act. The Fair Housing Act prohibits coercing, threatening, intimidating, or interfering with a person’s enjoyment or exercise of housing rights based on discriminatory reasons. Retaliation against a person or organization that aids or encourages the exercise or enjoyment of fair housing rights is also forbidden.

Criminal history.

Landlords’ use of criminal background checks is limited under HUD guidelines. Each application must be considering under the totality of the circumstances. Arrests without a conviction may not be used, as an arrest is not proof of guilt. Records of convictions may be used as a basis to exclude a tenant or prospective tenant only if necessary to achieve a substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interest. A blanket rule excluding all who have any convictions is not allowed. A landlord may deny renting to someone only if the prior criminal conduct indicates a demonstrable risk to resident safety and/or property.

State and local law may further limit use of criminal history in tenant screening.

Service animals.

Landlords are obligated to make reasonable accommodations to tenants with disabilities. Landlords cannot prohibit assistance animals, or refuse to rent to someone with a disability because of an assistance animal if there is a disability-related need for the service animal. The Fair Housing Act does not require that the assistance animal be individually trained or certified.

Breed, size, and weight restriction may not be applied to an assistance animal. Denial based on a direct threat to the health or safety of others or to property must be based on the conduct of the specific animal, not the type or breed of animal. Pet deposits may not be required for an assistance animal.

State and local laws may place additional requirements and limitations on landlords.

Violation of fair housing laws can have serious consequences, including hefty fines that are often many thousands of dollars. In some jurisdictions discrimination is a defense in an eviction action.

This is a short summary of the law. Contact an attorney and request a consultation if you have questions about your circumstances.