Five decades ago Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was signed into law.  This final piece of civil rights legislation prohibits the discrimination in the sale and rental of residential housing.  The goal of this act was to end the decades-long problem of discrimination based on race, sex, age, disability, and several other personal characteristics when it comes to access to housing. 

Overseen by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, this department has the authority to investigate cases of discrimination involving:

•    Home sales

•    Rentals

•    Advertising

•    Mortgage lending and insurance

•    Property insurance

•    And more

It is important to be aware of everything that the Fair Housing Act covers.  It applies to dwellings that are defined as, “any building, structure, or portion thereof which is occupied as, or designed or intended for occupancy as, a residence by one or more families, and any vacant land which is offered for sale or lease for the construction or location thereon of any such building, structure or portion thereof”.  It also covers a number of different real estate transactions:

•    The making or purchasing of loans or providing other financial assistance for the purchase

•    Construction

•    Improvement

•    Repair or maintenance of a dwelling

•    The selling, brokering or appraising of residential real property

•    Access, membership, or participation in multiple listing services, real estate brokers’ organizations, or other services related to the business of selling or renting dwellings.

Originally upon enactment, the Fair Housing Act prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.  In 1974 and again in 1988 it was expanded to include disability and familial status. These are the protected classes under the act. But what exactly constitutes discrimination?

The types of discrimination that the Fair Housing Act protects against are outright, intentional discrimination, and disparate impact.  Outright, intentional discrimination or steering can be proven with direct evidence such as a sign stating that a particular member of one of the protected classes listed above is not eligible to rent or purchase, or making statements dissuading interest based on age, race, sex, ability, etc.  Disparate impact is less obvious.  This type of discrimination will involve a policy that has the unintended consequence of discrimination.  These types of policies can make housing options more restrictive for members of the protected classes than for people not affiliated with those groups.  While this policy was not designed to discriminate, its implementation has a higher impact on people in the protected classes.

While this is a lot of information, this groundbreaking law has changed the lives of countless people and families for decades.  As a REALTOR® it is important to understand the ins and outs of the Fair Housing Act so that you can ensure that every client you have is receiving the protection that they deserve, because Fair Housing Makes U.S. Stronger.