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Housing Discrimination and Accommodation

There are many legitimate reasons- such as a bad credit report, unstable employment history or bad prior landlord references- for a landlord to reject a tenant, but a landlord may not treat a tenant differently based on any of the following reasons:
 
  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Sex
  • Age
  • Handicap
  • Marital status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Family status  
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from discriminating by:
 
  • Advertising for a preference for a particular skin type, religion and so forth
  • Having different standards (on credit checks, financially or otherwise) for different groups of prospective tenants
  • Refusing to rent to certain types of people
  • Ending a tenancy for discriminatory reasons  
State laws differ, so it's important to check local fair housing laws.
 
Discrimination Based on Disability
 
Federal laws prevent a landlord from discriminating against a disabled person, whether the disability is physical or mental. A potential landlord is prohibited from asking questions about disability or asking for proof of disability. A potential landlord may, however, screen disabled applicants according to the same financial standards and other criteria as anyone else.
 
A landlord must accommodate a disabled person's needs, at the landlord's expense. This may include installing a ramp for wheelchair access, providing close parking if parking is provided to other tenants, or modifying kitchens by lowering countertops and installing more accessible and safer appliances and plumbing.
 
A landlord is not required to make modifications that would make the space unusable by a future tenant, however. One compromise is to make accommodations temporary, so that they can be removed at the end of the lease. Further, the landlord must approve any tenant improvements ahead of time. The landlord is entitled to ask for medical proof that the modification is necessary, such as a note from the tenant’s doctor. The doctor is not required to explain why the accommodation is needed, only that the modification is necessary.
 
Discrimination Complaints
 
A tenant is required to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) within one year of the discriminatory act. HUD then has 100 days to investigate the complaint and decide whether it should go to an administrative hearing.
HUD will usually have a mediator work with the parties in a conciliation aimed at settling the dispute. If the parties cannot reach a settlement, an administrative hearing through HUD may be necessary. The tenant also has the option of filing a lawsuit in federal or state court within two years of the time the discrimination occurred.
 
Proving discrimination is difficult, but if the tenant prevails, he will be entitled to damages that would include any higher rent the tenant had to pay because of the discrimination. Because the damages aren't likely to cover the cost of bringing the case, lawsuits for discrimination are often a losing proposition in the long run.