Fair Housing--or Is It?
Know Your Rights
By Jill Terry
landlord shows two prospective couples the same apartment.
Couple A is in their 20's, has been married for over a year,
and the woman is obviously pregnant. Couple B consists of
two gay men, also in their 20's, who make considerably less
money than Couple A. The landlord selects Couple B to rent
the apartment. Are there any potential problems with the landlord's
- No, a landlord is free to rent to anybody he chooses.
- Possibly, he may have declined the married couple because
he didn't want a crying baby to annoy his other tenants
in a few months.
- No, he turned away the pregnant woman but accepted the
gay couple so no discrimination took place.
Before we decide, let's explore each possible answer using
the requirements of the federal Fair
Housing Act, which applies to property owners, brokers,
The Landlord Can Rent to Anybody He Chooses
In most cases, this is not true. The Fair Housing Act covers
most housing, though it does exempt owner-occupied buildings
with no more than four units. If you're shopping for a dwelling
to buy or rent, the transaction is exempt if no broker is
The Landlord Declined the Married Couple Because the Woman
Provided the property met the specifications outlined in the
previous paragraph, and he does indeed have a problem with
crying babies, the landlord is in violation of the Act. HUD
(Department of Housing and Urban Development) would probably
be interested in knowing about it. The Fair Housing Act prohibits
discrimination in housing if that discrimination is based
- Race or color
- National origin
- Family status
Family status is the basis on which this landlord has discriminated.
A property owner cannot refuse to rent or sell to families
with children under 18. Pregnant women are included in this
category, as they are carrying humans under the age of 18.
But what constitutes "discrimination" in the context
of the Fair Housing Act? Using the bases listed above, nobody
- Refuse to rent or sell housing.
- Refuse to negotiate for housing.
- Make housing unavailable.
- Deny a dwelling.
- Set different terms, conditions or privileges for sale
or rental of a dwelling.
- Falsely deny that housing is available for inspection,
sale, or rental.
More prohibitions exist, and you can learn more on HUD's
The Landlord Turned Away the Pregnant Woman But Accepted
the Gay Couple So No Discrimination Took Place
If you review the list of prohibited bases, you'll see that
sexual orientation or preference is not among them. So, accepting
a gay couple doesn't "erase" denying the pregnant
woman. In fact, even if Couple B was an African American married
couple, the landlord's selection of them over Couple A does
not absolve him from the discrimination that Couple A could
assert under the law.
Banks are Covered, Too
It may interest you to know that banks and mortgage lenders
must also abide by the Fair Housing Act. Specifically, they
must not take the following actions using the prohibited bases
- Refuse to make a mortgage loan.
- Refuse to provide information regarding a home.
- Impose different terms or conditions on a loan, such as
different interest rates, points, or fees.
- Discriminate in appraising property.
- Refuse to purchase a loan.
- Set different terms or conditions for purchasing a loan.
Do You Have a Case?
Remember that landlords, property owners, banks, and mortgage
companies generally consider a wide range of information before
making a decision about renting or selling property or making
a loan. What may appear to be discrimination on its face may
actually be something else when all the facts are reviewed.
Nevertheless, if you feel strongly that your family status
(or any prohibited basis) is the reason behind your failure
to get a mortgage loan or rent an apartment, file a complaint
and they'll investigate.