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Common Discrimination In Housing: Know Your Rental Rights

Finding the right apartment to rent can be a challenge, but it can be even more difficult if you are experiencing discrimination from property owners or management companies. The Fair Housing Act protects specific minorities and prohibits discrimination from landlords based on race, family status, gender, disabilities, age, or religion. Unfortunately, landlords can still try and get around the law by writing policies or refusing to rent to specific types of people for 'other' reasons. Here are some common types of discriminative policies that you can actually protest in court. 

1. Limiting families.

Landlords who dislike the damage or noise caused by children might refuse to rent to parents who have young kids. Instead of declining an application outright, they will simply restrict applicants by saying that only two adults, or two people in general, can rent the apartment. The FHA allows for a general guideline of 2 people per room. That is a general guideline, but is disputable based on the size of the room and the age of the child. If the room is large and the child in question is an infant, it can still be unlawful for a landlord to deny occupancy or to evict. 

In apartments with two or more bedrooms, children are permitted in nearly every circumstance. Landlords also cannot make contractual or property rules that limit family life unreasonably. For example, some landlords put all families in one area of the complex, having "family housing" and "non-family housing". If a family applies for an apartment and is denied because there are no "family" apartments available, this is unlawful. There also cannot be rules that restrict children from playing in community areas or penalize a couple for having a crying baby at night. Landlords also cannot charge families larger damage deposits.

The only place where there might be an exception is in seniors' communities, which are specifically reserved for older occupants. 

2. Racial discrimination. 

Unfortunately, racial discrimination still exists in America, and it is often quite subtle. However, common happenings include:

  • limiting apartment showings. In general, racial minorities are shown 10-12% fewer places than a white person looking for a similar apartment in the same area. 
  • steering minorities to specific neighborhoods. Black or Hispanic renters may have trouble finding anything available in predominantly white neighborhoods, despite sharing the same economic status. 
  • claiming there is no availability of apartments, but later renting to a white person. 
  • evicting a tenant because they have racially objectionable visitors.
  • charging racial minorities higher deposits or higher rental rates overall.
  • limiting leases. Some landlords will offer shorter leases to Black or Hispanic renters, while offering longer leases to Caucasian applicants. Generally, this tactic is to move a tenant of an undesirable race out of an apartment sooner to replace them with a "better" tenant.

Often racial discrimination is hard to pin down, but with investigation from a discrimination attorney, a landlord can be shown to have a history of discriminatory rental practices. 

3. Refusing those on public assistance. 

Many landlords have a personal agenda against people who receive government money to make ends meet. They may refuse rental contracts to those who receive SNAP benefits, disability payments, medical assistance, or Social Security for unemployment. This is generally illegal, but the illegality is not clearly defined in the Fair Housing Act. For example, some applicants may have housing vouchers for housing assistance. Some cities and states will bar landlords from turning away applicants with housing subsidies, even though the FHA does not. Check your state and local laws to be sure you know your rights when applying for housing and stating your income. 

For more information about common discrimination policies and trends in real estate, contact a discrimination attorney at a law office like the Law Office of Faye Riva Cohen, P.C.