Fair Housing Laws

It is illegal to discriminate against someone because of his or her race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, or disability. © Photograph by Bernard J. Kleina

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits the denial of housing to a person based on the person’s membership in one or more of the classes protected under the Act. The protected classes are race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, and disability. It is therefore illegal to discriminate against a person in the provision of housing because of a person’s membership in a protected class in the following situations:

  • the sale or rental of most housing;
  • the terms, conditions, privileges of sale or rental, or provision of services or facilities in connection with the sale or rental of most housing;
  • the advertising of a sale or rental of housing;
  • the representation of the availability of housing for rental or sale;
  • the provision of reasonable modification to a dwelling for persons with a disability at their expense when necessary for the full use and enjoyment of the dwelling;
  • the provision of reasonable accommodation to the rules, policies, practices or services when necessary to provide persons with a disability the equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling;
  • the financing or refinancing of housing; and
  • the provision of real estate brokerage services.

In addition, it is illegal to coerce, intimidate, threaten or interfere with a person seeking to exercise rights under the Fair Housing Act.

Fair Housing and Disability

Who Is Considered Disabled?

The federal Fair Housing Act and North Carolina State Fair Housing Act both prohibit discrimination against individuals who are disabled or who are associated with people with disabilities. Under the law, a person is disabled if he or she has a physical or mental disability that affects a major life activity, has a record of having such a disability, or is regarded as having a disability. Examples of disabilities include:

  • Hearing, mobility, and visual impairments
  • Chronic mental illness
  • Dementia
  • Developmental disabilities
  • Alcoholism and past drug use

Does Housing Have to be Accessible?

The Fair Housing Act requires multi-family housing built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, to have certain accessibility features. Some housing may be subject to accessibility requirements of other laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), local building codes, and other laws. In addition, disabled individuals can request reasonable accommodations and modifications. If you have questions about accessibility, contact the Fair Housing Project.

What is a Reasonable Accommodation?

A reasonable accommodation is a change in a rule, policy, practice, or service that allows a person with a disability to live in a property on an equal basis with people without disabilities. Examples of reasonable accommodations include:

  • allowing a service or therapy animal, despite a no-pet policy;
  • allowing a tenant to have a live-in aide who is not on the lease to assist with daily care;
  • assigning a reserved parking space to a tenant with a mobility impairment, even if parking is typically “first come/first serve.”

What is a Reasonable Modification?

A reasonable modification is a physical change to a unit or common area that allows a person with a disability to fully utilize the premises. In situations involving a private landlord, the person making the request must pay the cost of the modifications. Examples of reasonable modifications include:

  • installing a ramp;
  • installing grab bars in the bathroom;
  • widening doorways;
  • installing lever door handles.

Examples of illegal discrimination under the federal Fair Housing Act based upon protected class membership are:

False denial of availability: Advising someone because of their class membership that there are no available units when, in fact, there are.

“Sorry we just rented the last unit.”

Refusal to deal: Refusing to rent, sell — or even negotiate — with a person because of class membership.

“We don’t rent to Jews.” or “We don’t sell to families with children.”

Discriminatory terms and conditions and provision of services or facilities: Giving less favorable terms in sales or rental agreements because of class membership.

“The rent is $200 higher for persons with a disability or a service animal.”

Discriminatory Advertising: Indicating any preference, limitation or discrimination because of class membership.

“No African Americans need apply.”

Financial Discrimination: Denying any type of home loan for discriminatory reasons by lenders, including banks, savings and loan associations, insurance companies, and others, or giving less favorable loan terms because of class membership.

“Minorities must be charged higher interest rates on loans than similar white homeowners.”

Refusal to permit a reasonable modification to the unit at the expense of the person with a disability, in order that the person may have full enjoyment of the unit.

“You may not install grab bars in the bathroom.”

Denial of a reasonable accommodation to the rules and regulations of rental in order that the person with a disability may have equal opportunity to use and fully enjoy their unit.

“It’s against the rules to have another person live with you, even though there is enough room and the person is necessary to help you with your health needs.”