There was a time when you housing choices were limited by more than just your pocketbook. Home sellers could and would discriminate against prospective buyers based on their race, religion or family status. HotPads.com doesn't tolerate that nonsense, and neither does the U.S. Government.
The Fair Housing Act
Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, also called the Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of homes based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. In 1988 it was amended by the Fair Housing Amendments Act which expanded the coverage of the FHA to prohibit discrimination based on disability or on family status.
The United States Justice Department has the ability to investigate and bring Federal charges against individuals and organizations that violate these laws.
What sellers can't do
In accordance with this Act, home sellers and their agents can not refuse to show or sell you a home, set different terms for purchasing a home, deny that a home is available for sale, or refuse you access to any services related to buying a home, if their actions are based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap.
What lenders can't do
The FHA also governs the home loan process, which is critical to most home buyers. Lenders can not refuse to make a mortgage loan, refuse to provide information regarding loans, set different terms or conditions on a loan (like interest rates and fees), or refuse to purchase a loan based on these factors.
Additional restrictions of the FHA
Other prohibited activities include threatening, coercing, intimidating or interfering with anyone exercising a fair housing right or assisting others who exercise that right. It is also illegal to advertise real estate in such a way that it promotes a limitation or preference based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or handicap.
Other protections under Federal law
The Fair Housing Act is only one of many laws and Presidential Executive Orders that protect your right to a piece of the American dream. Others govern anti-discriminatory practices in public housing, federal programs and the availability of community-based living arrangements for persons with disabilities.
For a complete list and more details visit U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) website at Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.
How to file a complaint
If you think your rights have been violated, a Housing Discrimination Complaint Form is available for you to download or complete online at www.hud.gov/complaints/housediscrim.cfm. You can also write HUD a letter or call the HUD office nearest you. You have one year after a violation to file a complaint with HUD.
You can get contact information for each of the local HUD offices at www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/aboutfheo/fhhubs.cfm.
When you file a complaint, HUD will notify you when it receives it. They will also notify the alleged violator and them to submit a response while investigating the complaint to determine if the Fair Housing Act has been violated and let you know if it can't complete an investigation within 100 days.
HUD will try to reach an agreement with the person your complaint is against. This process is called conciliation. If an agreement is signed, HUD will take no further action on your complaint. However, if HUD has reasonable cause to believe that a conciliation agreement is breached, HUD will recommend that the Attorney General file suit.
HUD does not handle every complaint directly. If your state or local government has the same fair housing powers as HUD in relation to your case, HUD may refer your complaint to them. HUD will notify you of the referral. If HUD does not see progress on your complaint within 30 day, it may take the case back.
Still upset? Sue 'em.
If you believe that your rights have been violated, you can also file suit within two years of an alleged violation. Unfortunately, this will be your own expense. If you can't afford a lawyer, you may have one appointed to you. You can sue even after filing a complaint, if you have not signed a conciliation agreement and a hearing has not started. A court can award you actual and punitive damages, and cover your attorney's fees. Ka-ching!
Other Buyers Guide Topics
Jump back for the index of articles on the basics of buying a home.
Other Web Info
Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.