What Is Housing Discrimination?
Housing discrimination is treating people differently than others are treated under the same or similar circumstances.
This is illegal if it is done because of one's protected class status, or because of the protected class of those s/he associates with.
Housing discrimination also includes refusal to make reasonable accommodations or modifications for people with disabilities, or failure to build certain multi-family housing so that it is accessible to people with disabilities.
What is a "protected class"?
The term "protected class" refers to a group of people whom the law protects against illegal discrimination. A protected class is named for the characteristic that these people share, such as race or religion.
What are the protected classes under federal law?
The Fair Housing Act, which is the federal law governing housing discrimination, includes seven protected classes: race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status.
Are there additional protected classes in Minnesota?
Yes. In addition to the seven protected classes covered by the federal law, the Minnesota Human Rights Act considers sexual orientation, marital status, status with regard to public assistance and creed to be protected classes.
What does "familial status" cover?
"Familial status" protects families with children (under 18) from housing discrimination. This protection is broad, and also covers women who are pregnant and people who are in the process of adopting or fostering a child.
What is a disability under the law?
A disability is defined as any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities such as walking, seeing, hearing, thinking, self-care, or a chronic condition (such as mental illness, AIDS, blindness, hearing impairment, mental retardation, mobility impairment, etc.). In addition, those who have a record of an impairment or are regarded as having an impairment, are also covered. Recovering alcoholics and drug addicts may also be considered to have a disability and covered by the law.
Is sexual harassment covered by fair housing law?
Yes. Courts have held that the law's ban on housing discrimination based on sex includes sexual harassment.
Courts have recognized two types of violations of the law based on sexual harassment.
The first type of sexual harassment is called "quid pro quo" - that's when a housing provider, janitor, manager, caretaker, etc, offers or requires you to exchange sexual acts or favors for rent.
The second type of sexual harassment is a hostile environment. This is when the housing provider's (or employees') sexual comments, requests for dates, unauthorized entrances into your apartment or other behavior of a sexual nature is so severe or pervasive that it changes the nature of your tenancy.
For more information on sexual harassment in housing, including who is liable, see our fact sheet here.
Who must obey the law?
• Real estate operators, brokers and agents
• Savings & loan associations, mortgage lenders, banks, or other financial institutions
• Apartment managers
• Rental agents
• Builders, contractors and developers
• Owners of building lots
• Advertising media
• Homeowners advertising and selling their own home
• Caretakers and janitors
• Condo and townhome owners associations
• Government Agencies
What kind of housing is covered?
Covered housing includes real property (home, apartments, lots, etc.) rented or sold; boarding houses; public housing; mobile home parks; condominiums; homeless shelters and sober housing.
In some limited circumstances, housing operated by religious organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members may be excluded from complying.
I thought some housing was not covered. Is that true?
The exclusions are very complicated and different under federal and local laws. Assume that discrimination is illegal until you consult an expert.
I thought only federal housing was covered by federal law.
Since 1863 all property and contracts have been covered by laws banning race discrimination. In 1968 and 1988, more protected classes were added with special enforcement provisions.
What are some examples of housing discrimination?
The following are examples of acts or practices are illegal if based on someone's protected class:
• Denying or refusing to rent or sell housing
• Refusing to negotiate for housing
• Providing false information about availability of housing for inspection, sale, or rental
• Persuading owners to sell or rent in order to make a profit ("blockbusting")
• Denying anyone access to (or membership in) a facility, community (such as a homeowners association or manufactured home park), or service (such as a multiple listing service) related to housing
• Having different terms, conditions, rules or privileges based on protected class
• Advertising a discriminatory preference or limitation
• Harassing, coercing or intimidating people from enjoying or exercising their rights under fair housing laws
• Imposing different terms or conditions for purchasing or renting; constructing, improving, repairing, insuring, appraising, or maintaining a home; or for loans secured by housing
• Denying use of or participation in real estate services, e.g., brokers' organizations, multiple listing services, etc.
• Neighbor-on-neighbor harassment
• Retaliation for bringing a complaint about discrimination
Is the Fair Housing Act the same thing as the Americans with Disabilities Act?
No. While the two laws may offer the same protections in certain areas, they are not the same. The Fair Housing Act has seven protected classes, whereas the ADA protects only persons with disabilities. The Fair Housing Act extends to private landlords; the ADA's laws govern employers, those receiving federal funds, and public accommodations such as restaurants and movie theaters. (*Public accommodations within apartment complexes, such as rental offices, are covered by both the ADA and the FHA.)
In particular, the protection afforded to people with disabilities who need support animals is different under both laws. You can read more about this topic here.
What is a reasonable accommodation?
Besides not discriminating, housing providers may be required to make exceptions to rules, policies, and practices for people with disabilities in order for them to be able to gain full use and enjoyment of their housing. This comes in the form of a "reasonable accommodation" or a "reasonable modification" request.
The Fair Housing Act requires that housing providers must "make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a person with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling."
One example of a common reasonable accommodation is the waiver of a "no pets" policy for an individual with a disability who requires an animal because of his / her disability. There are narrow and specific reasons that a request for reasonable accommodation may be denied. See our section on Disability Rights for more information.
What is a reasonable modification?
The Fair Housing Act also requires that housing providers allow a person with a disability to make reasonable modifications to the physical structure of the unit or the common areas, when such a modification may be necessary to afford a person with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.
A common example of a reasonable modification would be the installation of a ramp for an individual in a wheel chair to access the entrance to their unit. There are very narrow and specific reasons that a request for reasonable modification may be denied. See our section on Disability Rights for more information on reasonable modifications.
What are requirements for housing to be accessible?
The Fair Housing Act requires all "covered multifamily dwellings" designed and constructed for first occupancy after March 13, 1991 to be accessible to and usable by people with disabilities. Covered multifamily dwellings are all dwelling units in buildings containing four or more units with one or more elevators, and all ground floor units in buildings containing four or more units, without an elevator.
What are the law’s design and construction requirements?
The Fair Housing Act lists seven basic standards that must be met to comply with the access requirements of the Act. Those requirements are:
Requirement 1: An accessible building entrance on an accessible route.
Requirement 2: Accessible common and public use areas.
Requirement 3: Usable doors (usable by a person in a wheelchair).
Requirement 4: Accessible route into and through the dwelling unit.
Requirement 5: Light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other environmental controls in accessible locations.
Requirement 6: Reinforced walls in bathrooms for later installation of grab bars.
Requirement 7: Usable kitchens and bathrooms.
For more information about the Act's D&C requirements, visit the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Fair Housing Accessibility First Page here.
Can a landlord deny me housing because I have a Section 8 voucher?
It depends. Although "status with regard to public assistance" is protected under Minnesota laws, the Minnesota courts have found that a private housing provider can choose to not participate in the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program. Minneapolis and St. Paul and Duluth ordinances are similar and may be interpreted in the same way. However, some buildings with tax credits and other government funds may not reject vouchers used by qualified tenants.
If a landlord has a "No Pets" policy, can he/she refuse to rent to me if I need a guide dog/companion animal?
NO. A landlord may have a 'no pets' policy and enforce that policy, however, a guide dog, service animal or companion animal is not a pet. If its purpose is to assist a person with a disability, acceptance of the animal could be considered a reasonable accommodation. No pet fee or additional deposit may be charged to a person with a disability for having a service animal. Learn more about Reasonable Accommodations here.
Can landlords have a “kids’ section?”
NO. Even though the landlord may believe that having the children in one section rather than another is a benefit, it is a violation of the law based on familial status. Directing people to one area of a complex, one particular floor or one neighborhood based on their protected class is known as steering and is illegal under federal law. If the place is not covered by federal law, Minnesota law permits child-safety considerations in some real estate transactions.