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A Consumers Guide to the Fair Housing Act

Prior to the creation of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, buyers and renters were left at the mercy of the sellers and/or landlords. There was rampant abuse in areas such as ensuring the homes were habitable, blatant discrimination and denials to women and minorities, and refusal to improve unsafe properties. Such abuse spurred the great need for this act to extend housing to all.

The overall purpose of the Act is to make it unlawful to refuse to rent, sell, or negotiate to a prospective tenant or buyer based on discrimination against a protected class. There are 12 categories which qualify as a protected class: race, color, religion, sex, and so forth. The intended purpose and desired outcome of the act was to open up housing to all Americans and cut down on discrimination.

Along with making it unlawful for landlords to use blatant discrimination to deny housing, the Fair Housing Act includes provisions that creates jurisdiction for Federal courts. This is a big change from in the past, where you had to negotiate the local legal system. This makes the system much more direct for an individual, making it unnecessary to go through any other administrative agency, like HUD, when seeking justice against discrimination.

Keep in mind, though, that the Act does not apply to all types of landlord-tenant relationships. The Act specifically applies to landlords that lease or rent space to three unrelated tenants or more. With this provision, the Act would not apply to a person renting out a room or to short-term rentals, like Airbnb or HomeAway.

Why is the Fair Housing Act Important?

Fair housing, under the Act, is a right granted to all citizens, to ensure that all of those seeking housing have access to it. Here are some of the highlights and benefits of the Fair Housing Act:

  • Promotes more inclusive and welcoming neighborhoods.

  • Provides access to housing for a greater number of people.

  • Creates opportunity to work and live in a safe and desirable location.

  • Preserves the integrity of all home seekers.

  • Ensures ethical practices relating to financing a home.

You have a right to fair, safe, and transparent housing, regardless of race, income, family status or disability. Knowing those rights as a consumer is important, either as a renter, a new home purchaser, if you seeking to refinance, and so on. If you believe that your rights have not been respected, or you have questions, HUD offers resources through its website, though legal processes are routed through the local judicial system. Know your rights, exercise your rights and respect the rights of others while procuring housing.

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