Fair Housing and Discrimination Laws Explained

It's illegal to falsely list a property as a result of discrimination.

A fair housing advocacy group in Chicago recently reached a settlement in federal court with Bernsen Management, landlords of a property near Northwestern University, after accusing them of housing discrimination. Bernsen Management was found to be violating Fair Housing laws by turning away qualified families in favor of NU students. This settlement broadcasts the message that there cannot be a co-existence of two private markets in Evanston, IL: one for students and another for families. The decision was made specifically based on Illinois fair housing laws,* but unlawful housing discrimination comes in many different forms. Are you aware of the fair housing laws in your state, and which practices are illegal?

Well, for starters, as a result of the Civil Rights Act, everyone in the U.S. has an equal right to get housing, no matter their gender, race, religion, or country of origin. In 1988, with the Fair Housing Amendments Act, familial status and disabled people were added to the list. In summary, you cannot target your rental properties towards or against any group, whether it is the LGBT community, families with children, seniors or students.

Let’s break it down even further. Here are the practices that prohibited under fair housing laws:

  • Discriminatory advertising, or favoring a particular group in your listings to exclude others, is against the law. It is illegal to falsely list a property as ‘not available’ to ward off a certain group. You cannot refuse to show, rent, or sell a property as a result of discrimination.
  • If your tenants file complaints concerning fair housing, do not intimidate or threaten them to keep them from reporting you.
  •  The act of steering a potential tenant against or towards renting with you based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. can get you in trouble. An example would be showing a property in an Asian community to Asians only.
  • Discriminating when providing sales and financing terms and access to listing information can get you in legal trouble.
  • You cannot refuse to lend, extend credit, sell, or provide insurance to renters. This often happens in high-risk areas such as inner cities, where qualified candidates are refused because of geographic location.

To protect yourself from future unintended run-ins with the law, here’s a link to a fair housing advertising and word and phrase list we found to be extremely helpful.

*The majority of states have their own fair housing laws. Make sure to keep updated on the laws in your state.