Can a property owner advertise that their property is adjacent to a church, or tell prospective tenants that because there is no mosque nearby, they might want to look elsewhere for housing? Can a landlord prohibit tenants from displaying Christmas lights, or those for other non-Christian holidays? Does a tenant have any rights if their religion makes it difficult for them to comply with a lease rule?
Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), housing providers, including landlords and property managers, cannot treat renters or buyers differently because of their religion or because they wear religious clothing or engage in religious practices and rituals. “Religion,” under the FHA, includes the practice and non-practice of religion, such as atheism, as well as religions that are outside the mainstream. However, a housing provider is not required to provide an accommodation from a neutrally applied rule for a person with religious needs.
From 2000-2018, a total of 68 complaints of housing discrimination based on religion were filed in North Carolina. Although this represents only 3.2% of total complaints during this period, the number has increased 33% in the period of 2014-2018 compared to 2009-2013.
- Can I Display Religious Items In my Apartment or Rental Home?
Tenants may display religious items or symbols in their units so long as they do not violate reasonable safety or sanitation rules or laws.
If tenants are allowed to display secular items or other decorations on their apartment doors or in windows, they should also be allowed to display religious items or decorations on their doors or windows, such as a Jewish mezuzah (religious ornament on a doorframe) or a Christian wreath or cross.
- Can Advertising for Housing Mention Religion?
Housing providers are prohibited from making discriminatory statements or publishing discriminatory advertising, as well as from making false statements about availability.
Advertisements for housing should not contain an explicit preference based on religion. For example, an advertisement that stated “Christian home for rent” would be prohibited under the FHA. If the name of an organization or rental property has a religious reference (such as “Roselawn Catholic Home”), it may indicate an unlawful religious preference. However, such advertisements will not generally violate the FHA if they include a non-discrimination policy and if the owner does not in fact discriminate in making rental decisions.
Advertisements with descriptions of properties (“neighborhood with chapel”) or services (“kosher meals available”) do not on their face state an unlawful preference and therefore do not generally violate the FHA. Secular terms or symbols relating to religious holidays, such as Santa Claus or St. Valentine’s Day, or phrases, such as “Merry Christmas” “Happy Hanukkah,” or similar do not violate the FHA.
- What About Properties Owned by Religious Groups?
A religious institution or affiliated organization providing housing may give a preference to persons of the same religion if: 1) housing is offered for non-commercial purposes; and 2) the religion does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin. Housing providers that receive HUD or other federal funds cannot discriminate on the basis of religion.
- What are other examples of possible discrimination?
Housing discrimination can take many forms. Some examples of possible discrimination include:
- Harassing tenants because of their religious practices or dress;
- Refusing to rent to women who wear hijabs (religious headscarves) or Sikhs who wear turbans;
- Allowing tenants to put up Christmas lights, but telling others they cannot put up decorations for their non-Christian holiday;
- Telling tenant applicants that they will not like a neighborhood because there is not a mosque, synagogue or church nearby;
- Prohibiting use of a community room for religious purposes, while allowing it for secular gatherings, such as parties; and
- Giving rental incentives or other preferences only to applicants of certain religions.
More from this Newsletter Issue: Fall 2019
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