Even in 2012, there are a slew of lenders, property owners and landlords who discriminate against people based on race, sex, religion and a slew of other factors.
Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to take action against these people and to know exactly what your rights as a potential renter or homeowner are. The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO), an agency within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), is on your side if you’re facing discrimination.
History of FHEO
Though it was meant to be a direct follow up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act was not passed until 1968. This act established the FHEO and sought to prevent against discrimination based on race, nation of origin, religion, gender in the rental, sale and financing of homes. The act was notable updated in both 1974 and 1998 to correct enforcement shortcomings and protect more individuals.
In 1995 The Housing for Older Persons Act (HOPA) passed, which made certain types of housing exempt from certain types of FHEO enforcement. FHEO’s headquarters are located within Washington, DC and there are ten satellite branches located around the country. These offices cooperate with state and local agencies to ensure the proper application of fair housing programs.
What does FHEO do?
Simply put, FHEO exists to make sure there is no fissure between an individual’s actual rights as a potential home buyer or renter and the treatment they receive from lenders and landlords. Not only does the Fair Housing Act guarantee that a landlord or lender cannot refuse to rent or sell a home to an individual based on race, gender, disability or other factors, it also prohibits them from changing terms, lying about price or availability, or provide different housing than what was initially agreed upon because of prejudice or biases. The Act also grants permission to disabled persons to make necessary adjustments to homes for greater accessibility and allows guide animals in homes that do not otherwise allow pets.
Landlords and lenders cannot take out potentially discriminatory ads that describe certain preference in tenants’ race, religion, sex or other factors that are protected by the Act. People who do make complaints are legally protected from intimidation and threats from those they have filed against. There are certain exceptions to what the Fair Housing Act provides, however. For instance, a family might be denied access to a building that is qualified as housing for senior citizens. Landlords and lenders are not required to offer housing to those who currently use illegal drugs or persons who pose a threat to the safety of others in their community.
What is Housing Discrimination?
Housing discrimination can take many forms, and sometimes people do not realize they are being discriminated against. Here is a short list to consider.
- An outright declination to rent, sell or even show housing
- Suddenly being told the house is not “a good fit” or suddenly being told a home with a “for sale” or “for rent” sign is not available
- Offering completely different terms for identical dwellings
- Asking an inordinate amount of questions, some of which may be inappropriate
- Terms changing between phone or email contact and an in-person meeting
- Being pushed toward racially or ethnically segregated neighborhoods or buildings
You can file a complaint with HUD or an affiliated local agency. Once the complaint is filed, HUD will investigate the complaint and try to reconcile between both parties with no cost to you. The claims will be escalated as necessary.
If you wish to file a lawsuit yourself, there are many fair housing agencies, many of which are nonprofit, that will be glad to assist you. At any time you should be encouraged to call 1-800-669-9777 or to visit HUD on the web.
To read an exhaustive list of your rights, visit the HUD subpage here.
To find a local agency, visit the NFHA.
Learn more about FHEO by reading Fair and Affordable Housing in the US: Trends, Outcomes, Future Directions by Robert Mark Silverman.