Fair Housing & Housing Discrimination
Housing discrimination is treating someone differently because of a particular characteristic that they have. The particular characteristics are called protected classes. Federal, state and local laws promote fair housing and make housing discrimination illegal. The federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status (pregnant women and adults who have children under 18 years old living with them). The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act prohibits discrimination against the same groups, as well as discrimination on the basis of age, for people aged 40 and older. Local ordinances in Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton, and Pittston make it illegal to discriminate because of a person's sexual orientation and gender identity. Other areas may have similar protections.
If you live in Lehigh or Northampton counties and think you are a victim of housing discrimination, call 610-317-5322.
What types of housing do fair housing laws cover?
The law applies to most types of housing, including private housing, public housing and subsidized housing. The law applies to manufactured home communities, sometimes called mobile home parks. The law also applies to group homes, transitional housing, rooming or boarding houses, nursing homes, and university housing. Homeless shelters are usually covered too.
What are some examples of housing discrimination?
Examples of housing discrimination include:
- A landlord charging a higher security deposit to families with children
- A landlord refusing to assign a handicap parking space to a disabled tenant
- A Realtor requiring a Latino potential homebuyer to prove he is pre-qualified for a mortgage, but not requiring proof from a white potential homebuyer
- A landlord refusing to rent to someone who does not speak English well
- A landlord requiring a tenant to have sex with them in exchanging for making repairs
- A homeowner telling an African-American couple that the house is no longer for sale, but telling a white couple that the house is still on the market
Discrimination comes in many forms. If you feel you have been denied housing unfairly, please contact NPLS or a housing law attorney.
What does housing discrimination look like?
Housing discrimination happens in a lot of different ways. Here are some examples:
- Landlord telling you upon meeting you in person that the rent is higher than the advertisement said.
- Advertisement that says “no kids allowed” or “no teenagers”
- Landlord saying on the phone that the apartment is available and then telling you it is not available when the landlord meets you and your same-sex partner
- Landlord saying they won’t rent to someone with a mental health disability
- Real estate agent suggesting you would fit in better in a neighborhood with more African-American residents
- Landlord charging a higher security deposit to a person who uses a wheelchair
- Landlord not making repairs for Latino tenants but making repairs for white tenants
- Landlord refusing to rent to women because the apartment is in an unsafe location
- Landlord charging a higher security deposit to a family with children than a couple
Can I file a complaint if I think I have been discriminated against?
Yes. If you believe you are being denied housing, evicted or harassed because you are a member of a protected class, you may be protected under the Fair Housing Act and state or local fair housing laws. If you are a person with a disability, you may need to request an accommodation of your disability. If your landlord denies the request or doesn’t respond to the request at all, you may file a complaint for discrimination.
Gather any proof you have that you were discriminated against. Proof could include text messages, emails, letters, voicemails. If you were discriminated against in renting an apartment, keep a copy of the advertisement. Write down the property address and the landlord’s name, address and phone number.
Where can I file a Fair Housing complaint?
If you believe your rights under the Fair Housing Act or the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act have been violated, you should file a complaint with either the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) as soon as possible. The deadline for filing a complaint with HUD is one year from the date of the discriminatory action or incident. The deadline for filing a complaint with PHRC is 180 days from the date of the discriminatory action or incident. Some cities have Human Relations Commissions that deal with fair housing complaints.