What is Housing Discrimination?

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  • Written By: Lainie Petersen
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 29 January 2020
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Housing discrimination is the restriction of access to housing on the basis of a person's immutable characteristics or membership in a particular class or group. This type of discrimination can be perpetrated by anyone or any organization that owns or controls access to housing: landlords, property managers, or banks. In housing discrimination, both potential renters and buyers of housing can be affected by a landlord's property owner's decision to not sell or rent a home, to charge a higher price for housing, or to place special conditions on their tenancy or ownership. In the United States, federal law makes it illegal to discriminate against a potential tenant because of race, nationality, or religion, as well as disability, gender, or family status. In some states or localities, however, it is also illegal to discriminate against an applicant because of a criminal record or on the basis of sexual orientation.


In rental housing, housing discrimination can occur when a landlord or property manager denies a rental application from somebody based on her membership in one of the protected classes as defined by law rather than the applicant's rental history or financial situation. It is also illegal to discriminate against a potential tenant by charging an additional security deposit, requiring a cosigner, or requesting a higher rent without having a legitimate business reason to do so. For example, landlords who rent to families with children in the United States cannot charge the family more rent than the single renter or couple without children. Other types of housing discrimination in rental housing include restricting certain tenants and their families from using amenities or facilities or refusing to make reasonable accommodations for a tenant with a disability.

Those who wish to buy a home may also face housing discrimination. Historically, home owners and real estate agents have sometimes colluded to prevent people of certain races, religions, or ethnicities from buying a home in a particular neighborhood. Even in the absence of that type of discriminatory behavior, banks, insurers, and mortgage lenders have been known to engage in a practice called redlining in which they refuse to approve mortgages or loans in neighborhoods dominated by a particular racial or ethnic group. Individuals in these communities who wish to buy or improve a home may have to resort to borrowing money at subprime rates that cost them more over time and pose more of a financial risk.


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