Fair Housing Information for Homebuyers

The Fair Housing Act makes discriminatory practices illegal when it comes to housing. Unfortunately, it is possible to encounter discrimination at any step in the process of buying a home. Landlords, real estate companies, mortgage lenders, sellers, homeowner’s insurance companies and other entities can all violate the laws, either intentionally or unintentionally. Therefore, knowing your equal housing opportunity rights is important when you begin looking for a home to buy.

Fair housing laws offer protection so that both renters and homebuyers can receive equal treatment when getting housing. When a homebuyer feels that he or she has faced discrimination in any part of a transaction, it is possible to file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or file a lawsuit in a state or federal court. Below, learn more about housing discrimination and discover what homeowners can do to protect their rights.

What is the Fair Housing Act?

When you think of equal opportunity housing, apartments and condominiums probably come to mind. However, fair housing rules provide much broader coverage, protecting you in most types of housing transactions. As an exception, some real estate transactions are not covered, such as when you buy a house from an individual without using a broker. In all other cases, housing providers cannot discriminate against you based on factors including:

  • Race.
  • Color.
  • National origin.
  • Religion.
  • Sex.
  • Family status.
  • Disability.

These criteria are known as “protected classes.” While federal law stipulates that discrimination cannot occur based on these seven classes, your state’s laws may include additional protected classes.

Learn more about the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and its loans by reading our comprehensive guide here.

What counts as housing discrimination?

Discrimination in housing transactions can come in many different forms. When you are trying to buy a home, providers cannot refuse to sell to you or refuse to negotiate on prices based on any of the protected classes described above. Furthermore, you cannot receive different terms or conditions based on your protected class. In addition, no one can profit from persuading you to move or not move to a place based on your status.

The housing discrimination laws are clearly outlined, but what activities count as discrimination might not always be obvious. In some cases, a housing provider or seller may not realize that they are being discriminatory. Looking at housing discrimination examples can help provide a clearer picture.

How do equal opportunity housing practices affect homebuyers?

While homebuyers are protected under the fair housing law just as renters and other individuals are, there are additional rights when it comes to lending practices. In general, mortgage lenders are not allowed to do any of the following based on your color, race, sex, religion, disability, national origin or family status:

  • Deny your application for a mortgage loan.
  • Withhold information regarding loans.
  • Make you abide by different terms or conditions.
  • Appraise your property using different criteria or practices.
  • Deny your application for homeowner’s insurance.

There are several specific ways that lenders can break equal housing laws when deciding whether to work with you. Keep in mind that the laws for fair housing do not require lenders to approve you based on factors that are not protected under the Act. In other words, if you are denied for a loan based on your credit alone, this does not count as a violation unless other discriminatory factors influenced the creditor’s decision.

Get more information about FHA loans in our free guide.

Where to Get Help with Fair Housing Violations

If you believe you are the victim of discrimination when buying a house, there are several resources that you may wish to use before filing a claim. First, HUD’s Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) office has both regional and field offices that you may contact for assistance.

FHEO offices can answer questions and point you in the right direction if you do not know where to begin. Second, there HUD’s Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP) works with a variety of organizations. These groups may be able to speak on your behalf throughout the complaint and investigation process

How to File a Fair Housing Discrimination Complaint

The HUD encourages you to file a complaint if you believe your rights have been violated. It is important to start the process as soon as possible, as there is a time limit when it comes to investigating violations. You will need to have the following information on hand before you start the complaint process:

  • Your name and address, as well as an email address if filing online.
  • The name and address of the person or entity that you believe violated your rights.
  • A description of the discrimination, including the date that it occurred.

Fair housing complaints can be filed online, by email, over the phone or through the mail. If filing online, applications are available in English and Spanish. Emailed or mailed application are provided in Arabic, Cambodian, Chinese, English, Korean, Russian, Somali, Spanish and Vietnamese, but you can file a complaint in any language. If your language is not included in this list, HUD provides interpreters to help you through the process.

What happens after filing a housing discrimination complaint?

Many people are afraid of reporting those who violate fair housing rules, but in fact, it is illegal for anyone to retaliate against those who make complaints. Homeowners who feel that they have faced retaliation after filing a complaint can report the retaliation by filing another claim against the violator.

After you report an equal housing opportunity violation, HUD will notify the violator that you have made a complaint, giving him or her a chance to respond to the allegations. Next, HUD will investigate the issue and decide whether your rights were violated. After the investigation is complete, you can either reconcile the issue out of court, have an administrative law judge hearing or attend a civil trial in a Federal District Court. You may choose to file a private lawsuit as well.