What is Housing Discrimination? What Can You Do?

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Housing discrimination is illegal. Experts and attorneys say bias is hard to show, let alone eliminate. How to spot housing discrimination, what laws protect you, and how to fight it. Federal, state, and local laws ban housing discrimination:

  • Discrimination remains, but it’s hard to establish.
  • Winning a case requires time and strong documentation.
  • Fair housing organizations can help.

Housing Discrimination

Anyone involved in renting, selling, or buying a property discriminates against the buyer, renter, or seller because they belong to a protected class. Housing discrimination includes charging potential tenants with children more, refusing to show immigrant candidates homes in certain neighborhoods, or offering to buy a home for less based on the seller’s ethnicity. Federal housing discrimination includes race, color, religion, national origin, sex (including gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and sexual harassment), familial status, and handicap.

Anti-discrimination Laws

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 barred discrimination against renters and buyers based on race, color, religion, and nationality. The Fair Housing Act was expanded in 1974 to add gender safeguards and in 1988 to include child and disability protections. State and local governments have incorporated sexual orientation and other protections. In New York, a bank or landlord can’t ask about a person’s criminal background, says real estate lawyer Damon P. Howard. Howard notes that NYC forbids discrimination based on immigration status or legal occupation. Prohibitions on racial discrimination cover dreadlocks and other ethnic hairstyles.

New Rules

Trump regulations: Civil rights and housing rights advocates believe HUD’s Trump-era regulatory revisions make it harder to prove discrimination. HUD published final rule amendments in September 2020 that make it harder to initiate a housing discrimination lawsuit citing disparate effect, or a practice or policy that appears neutral but adversely impacts a protected group. Attorneys say the new regulation transfers proof to claimants. The final rule took effect on Sept. 4, 2020, 30 days following publication in the Federal Register.

HUD also canceled the Obama administration’s 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) policy in August 2020. These overlapping, complex, and repetitious criteria prevent a victim’s complaint from being heard.

Biden Regrets

President Biden approved executive orders in 2021 that might undo Trump’s housing policies. One presidential order directs HUD to assess AFFH and disparate effect modifications made by the Trump administration. Another ordered all departments to implement a Supreme Court rule that sex discrimination statutes must cover gender identity and sexual orientation. HUD said in February 2021 that it would examine LGBTQ+ housing discrimination.

HUD renewed systematic racism and housing discrimination rules in 2021. The Biden administration launched PAVE to investigate and remove racial bias in home appraisals. Comparable homes in majority-Black and majority-white areas are worth less. Systematic undervaluing of homes in minority neighborhoods might harm their wealth. PAVE addresses this.

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Persistent Housing Discrimination

Though the law prohibits housing bias, racial discrimination is a concern for renters and buyers in many U.S. cities. Home sellers and landlords can no longer advertise “Whites exclusively” or enforce racial or religious covenants. 11 As was historically customary in the U.S. and was perpetuated by redlining, banks cannot blatantly reject borrowers a mortgage based on race.

Sellers, landlords, and bankers can discriminate subtly. These include refusing to display candidate listings in a specific neighborhood or diverting minority applicants to segregated regions. According to HUD, same-sex couples and transgender people face housing discrimination in places around the country.


The disparate impact legal doctrine of liability addresses activities that discriminate against a protected group, regardless of intent. Kaufman argues a co-op board offering preferential treatment to co-op applicants who are friends or family of existing residents is a form of racial discrimination against a protected group. The Biden administration is fighting redlining and racial bias in loans. Mortgage discrimination includes outright denials and less favorable lending terms for minority applicants. In face-to-face transactions, Black and Latino borrowers paid 0.08 percent more in mortgage interest and refinancing fees than White borrowers.

Online or smartphone apps weren’t any better. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and state regulators enforce anti-discrimination regulations in mortgage lending under the 1974 Fair Housing Act and Equal Credit Opportunity Act.

Discrimination Hinders Black Americans’ Wealth-building

Housing discrimination denies more than shelter. It has hampered Black Americans’ capacity to build and pass down riches. The Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank, reported that at age 60 or 61, the average housing wealth for Blacks who bought a property at age 45 or older was $26,668 and $104,866 for Whites. A smaller percentage of Blacks can buy their first homes before 35, and their first homes are of lower value and purchased with more debt and less equity than Whites. Blacks frequently don’t buy a second property, renting instead.

According to Economic Policy Institute studies citing federal data, the median White family has 12 times the wealth of African American families. This gap has increased in recent decades. According to the Urban Institute, lower Black homeownership will increase future wealth inequality. Closing the homeownership gap is crucial to closing the racial wealth divide.

Fighting Housing Discrimination

How can a homeowner or renter fight discrimination?: Under anti-discrimination and harassment rules, property owners can refuse to rent or sell to anyone, for any reason, as long as there is no discrimination against a “protected class,” says Howard. This makes demonstrating prejudice difficult.