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Fair housing refers to federal laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination and unfair treatment in any activity related to the sale or rental of housing. Additionally, fair housing accounts for equal opportunities for financing or other related transactions and in the provision of housing-related services.

Passed in 1968, the Federal Fair Housing Act establishes the right for a person to choose where they live and to live there with dignity and without discrimination. The Fair Housing Act ensures the accessibility of all forms of available housing to all people regardless of certain racial, cultural or physical factors. The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination based on someone’s race, color, religion, national origin, gender/sex, family status, physical disability, and/or mental disability. These groups are also known as protected classes.

States and local jurisdictions may provide additional protections. For example, Ohio prohibits housing discrimination based on ancestry or military status and Cincinnati prohibits housing discrimination based on sexual orientation, marital status, or Appalachian origin. Additional protections vary by state and by city. Contact HOME or your local fair housing agency for details about your protections.



The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on a person’s race or the pigment of a person’s skin. This includes the sale of real estate where homebuyers are “steered” toward or away from certain neighborhoods because of race.



Housing providers cannot discriminate based on a person’s religious beliefs or non-beliefs. It is illegal to advertise or make any statement that indicates a preference based on religion. For example, an apartment manager cannot place a notice on a community bulletin board or newspaper ad which says, “Christian preferred.”


National Origin

National origin refers to a person’s birthplace, ancestry, language, and/or customs. It is illegal for a landlord to deny housing or display differential treatment because of a person’s name, appearance, accent, or participation in customs associated with nationality. All policies must be uniform. For example, if a Social Security number is requested of one applicant, it must be requested of all applicants.



Landlords cannot advertise a preference for male or female tenants. An exemption is allowed where roommates share bathrooms or kitchens—such shared housing may be restricted to only men or only women. Some courts have said that it is illegal housing discrimination to evict a woman who is the victim of domestic violence because of what happened to her.

Sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination that involves unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. It is unlawful to coerce, intimidate, threaten, or interfere with any person in the exercise or enjoyment of any housing right. Owners are held responsible if an employee or maintenance worker is sexually harassing a tenant.


Familial Status

A landlord or condo association cannot have a “no children” policy or make decisions based on the ages or genders of the children. An exemption is permitted for senior or elderly housing. In order to qualify for the exemption there must be a published policy stating that the property is senior housing and at least 80% of the units must be occupied by someone 55-years-old or older.

Reasonable occupancy standards may be set by a landlord or jurisdiction but must apply equally for children and adults. Courts generally have found a maximum of two people per bedroom to be reasonable.


The Fair Housing Act provides protection for people who: have any physical or mental impairment; have a history of a disability; or are perceived as being disabled. The Fair Housing Act also protects those who are associated with the disabled person—for example, a parent. A disability is defined as any physical or mental factor that impairs any major life function—such as seeing, hearing, breathing, walking, speaking, learning, or interacting with others. A landlord cannot ask a person for medical information or details about the disability and cannot restrict use of amenities that are available to other tenants.

Reasonable accommodations are waivers or changes of policies so that a person with a disability has an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their chosen housing. Common examples are waivers of “no pet” policies for service animals or changing the rent due date. The person with a disability must request the accommodation and the housing provider may require a statement from a licensed professional verifying that the person is disabled and requires the requested accommodation.

Reasonable modifications are physical changes to an apartment or house that makes the unit accessible to someone who is disabled. Generally, private landlords are not required to make physical changes to property to make it accessible. However, landlords must allow tenants to put in a ramp or make other modifications, in which the tenant pays for the changes. Some laws may require a landlord who receives federal funding to make an apartment accessible for a tenant with a disability. The Fair Housing Act requires all multifamily apartments and condos built after 1991 to meet certain accessibility standards.


All real property (houses, condos, apartments, lots, etc.) rented or sold for the use or intention of use as a home or residence is covered by fair housing laws. These laws apply to all involved in the transaction: owner, advertiser, HOA, condo board, builder, broker, manager, agent, lender, insurer, etc. Fair housing rights can be violated at any step during the rental, purchase, or insuring of a property if the actions are based on a person’s protected class.

Common Signs of Illegal Discrimination:

  • Refusing to rent or sell a home

  • Failing to respond to a call or offer

  • Denying access to certain sites

  • Requiring unusual IDs or documents

  • Charging extra fees or deposits

  • Altering rules for qualification

  • Setting different residency policies


HOME distributes various educational materials regarding fair housing, protected classes, tenant-landlord law, fair lending, foreclosure prevention, and more. Our materials and resources can be found here. Additional information also is available at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Fair Housing website at

HOME staff can explain your housing rights, help you gather evidence, and advise you on enforcement options. Contact HOME if you feel you may have experienced housing discrimination, have questions, or would like more information.

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