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Brushing Up on Fair Housing Laws

Part of the Landlord's Legal Kit For Dummies Cheat Sheet

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits you, as landlord, from discriminating against or giving preferential treatment to people based on a protected class — a characteristic that can't be used to discriminate against or in favor of an individual or group. The Fair Housing Act specifies the following seven protected classes:

  • Race: Ethnicities or cultures, including African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, and Asian. Some interpretations may include designations that would seem to belong to other protected classes, such as Polish or Jewish.

  • Religion: System of belief, such as Christian, Muslim, Wiccan, or atheist.

  • National origin: The country or area a person was born in, such as Canada, Mexico, the Middle East, Nigeria, and even the United States.

  • Sex: Physical sex — male or female. Sexual harassment is recognized to be an element of sex discrimination.

  • Color: Skin color or shade, which may seem to be the same thing as race, but whether or not someone knows another person's race, they may discriminate based on lightness or darkness of skin.

  • Handicap: Physical or mental handicaps or disabilities, including hearing and visual impairments, chronic alcoholism, HIV/AIDS, depression, hoarding, allergies, and more.

  • Familial status: Whether a household includes minors. Pregnancy is also protected. An exception does apply to bona fide senior housing.

State and local laws may extend protection to additional classes, including age, marital status, income source, and sexual orientation.

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