What is the Fair Housing Act?

Written by Ingrid Haftel
Updated 12/05/2019

Every day, people experience discrimination in their search for a home—maybe someone has discriminated against you, too. The Fair Housing Act is a federal law that protects people from discrimination when they are renting, buying, or selling housing. Read on to find out who the law covers and how you can use it to fight back against discrimination!

Fair Housing Act: Summary and History

The Fair Housing Act protects many activities that relate to housing, including renting, applying for a mortgage, selling a home, and finding housing assistance. This law also covers most types of housing, but there are some exceptions.

The law dates back to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. In fact, the Fair Housing Act is also known as the Civil Rights Act of 1968. It passed just after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. While most people know the law for its protections against discrimination, it was also designed to reverse the segregation in housing. That’s a struggle we’re still fighting: the National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates the home ownership rate for White Americans at 71%, while the rate for Black Americans is only 41%.

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Who does this act protect?

Under the Fair Housing Act, it’s illegal for anyone to discriminate against you on the basis of:

  • Race

  • Color

  • National origin

  • Religion

  • Sex

  • Familial status (whether you have children)

  • Disability

If you have a disability, you also have the right to ask for certain changes to your housing to make it easier and safer to live in. These are called “reasonable accommodations.”

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How does the law apply to you?

If you’ve been discriminated against on the basis of any of the categories listed above, the Fair Housing Act applies to you. Acts of discrimination include:

  • Refusing to sell, rent, or provide housing assistance to you

  • Refusing you loans or financial assistance

  • Asking you to meet different terms or conditions—including application criteria, interest rates, or fees

  • Providing you with different facilities than the ones provided to other people

  • Failing or delaying to make repairs (sometimes bad landlords just don’t make repairs—and it may or may not be related to discrimination)

  • Harassing you

  • Preventing you from exercising your Fair Housing Act rights, or retaliating against you for exercising them

You have the right to file a complaint if you’ve been discriminated against. Depending on what happened, you may be able to get help from the government in resolving your complaint or taking legal action. 

Before you file a complaint, you should explore your options. You can also read up on HUD’s process for filing a complaint.

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Find more resources on housing discrimination

If you live in New York City, you are also covered by the New York City Human Rights Law. This law protects people from discrimination based on an even bigger list of categories than the list above, and you may want to check if the law applies to your case.

Find detailed guides and factsheets at the Fair Housing Justice Center.

Visit Metropolitan Council on Housing for resources from NYC”s oldest tenant organization.

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Exercise Your Tenant Rights

JustFix.nyc creates tools to protect your housing rights, from getting repairs to responding to eviction notices. Enter your address to see our tools.


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