The Fair Housing Act is simply a legal effort to ensure fair treatment of renters, buyers, and sellers when it comes to real estate transaction. Its basic intent is to ensure that all people who apply for housing are treated the same across the board. The act delineates all the things that could be construed as discriminatory for lenders, landlords, buyers, sellers, and renters. And the Act expressly prohibits discrimination in the buying, selling, renting, or financing of housing. So to help you stay in compliance, here is our effort to explain the Fair Housing Act for buyers and sellers.
Overview of the Fair Housing Act
“The Fair Housing Act,” according to experts on the matter, “is a law that was created to put an end to discriminatory practices involving activities related to housing. The Act was created with the belief that every person has the right to rent a home, purchase a home, or get a mortgage on a home without being afraid of discrimination due to their membership in a certain class of people.” And all that means the Fair Housing Act has important implications for buyers and sellers.
Actually, though, attempts to create such a law had been around since the mid-nineteenth century. But it wasn’t until the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s that such efforts gained any real traction. The first two real attempts that got anywhere were the Rumford Fair Housing Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And then in 1968, just one week after the assassination of Dr. King, the Fair Housing Act was established.
Goals of the Fair Housing Act
The main goal of the Fair Housing Act is to protect people from discrimination in housing matters, especially selling, renting, and getting a mortgage. Some of the discriminatory actions the Act protects people from are:
- Refusal in renting, selling, or negotiating housing
- Being lied to about the availability of housing
- Being treated differently from other people with respect to terms and conditions in renting or selling a home
- The sale of homes under false pretenses (“blockbusting”)
- Different amenities and/or accommodations for different people
- Refusal to purchase or make a loan
- Refusal to make mortgage loan information available
- Discrimination in appraising
- Using class bias in advertisements
- Threatening or interfering with Fair Housing rights
In explaining the Fair Housing act for buyers and sellers, we definitely have to address who is protected. Currently, there are seven categories of protection under this Act:
- National origin
- Sex (added in 1974)
- Disability (added in 1988)
- Familial status (also added in 1988 and refers especially to pregnant women and people with minor children)
- Sexual orientation (added in 2017 and assumed rather than explicit)
- Gender Identity (also added in 2017 and also assumed rather than explicit)
Enforcement of the Fair Housing Act has been problematic owing to “inconsistencies across local jurisdictions.” But “anyone whose rights have been violated can file a lawsuit in federal district court or file a claim with HUD. Officially, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or HUD is fully responsible for the Fair Housing Act.”
Typically, HUD uses two broad enforcement methods for the Act. These are:
- Investigation of discrimination claims – Whenever someone files a discrimination claim, HUD sends a team to investigate that claim. If the investigators find that the claim has merit, then HUD determines the best course of action for that particular claim.
- Using Fair Housing testers – HUD also uses testers to find out whether sellers and landlords are in compliance. This strategy involves people posting as tenants and home buyers to see whether there is any infringement of rights. This is something that landlords and sellers should always keep in mind.
Penalties for violating the Fair Housing Act (even innocent, inadvertent violations) vary according to the nature and severity of the violation, for example:
- Simple discrimination – a fine, a year’s imprisonment (maximum), or both
- The use, attempted use, or threatened use of dangerous weapons, explosives, or fire – a fine, 10 years’ imprisonment (maximum), or both
- Bodily injury – a fine, 10 years’ imprisonment (maximum), or both
- Discrimination that results in attempted/actual death, attempted/actual kidnapping, or attempted/actual aggravated sexual abuse – a fine, up to life imprisonment, or both
How to Ensure Compliance
With these stiff penalties, violation of or even simple noncompliance with the Fair Housing Act is obviously a serious matter – carrying the possibility of fines and even imprisonment. And, as we mentioned, it’s possible to be in violation without intending to do so. So ensuring compliance with the Fair Housing Act is very important for all buyers and sellers. But without legal training and real estate experience, it’s difficult to be sure. That’s where we can help.