Topic 7.1: Fair Housing Laws

Learning Objectives

After successfully completing this topic, you will be able to
• explain the significance of the Jones vs. Mayer court case,
• list the real estate included under the different fair housing acts,
• recognize the groups protected under the 1968 Fair Housing Act,
• list the property exempt from the 1968 Fair Housing Act,
• understand the provisions of the 1988 Fair Housing Amendment, and
• describe the types of discriminatory acts that are prohibited under the 1968 Fair Housing Act.

Civil Rights Act of 1866

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 prohibits discrimination based on race only. The Supreme Court later interpreted the Act to protect all ethnic groups.

The Act made it illegal to discriminate in jobs and housing based on race. The problem was that penalties were not specified, so many victims of discrimination were left with little recourse.

Jones v. Mayer case

Jones, a black man, charged that a real estate company in Missouri’s St. Louis County refused to sell him a home in a neighborhood based on his race. The Supreme Court in 1968 sided with Jones, saying the 13th Amendment empowered Congress to eliminate racial barriers to the acquisition of property.

Civil Rights Act of 1964

In 1964 Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 . Title VII of the act created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to implement the law. The EEOC enforces laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age in hiring, promoting, firing, setting wages, testing, training, apprenticeship, and all other terms and conditions of employment.

The Fair Housing Act

The Civil Rights Act of 1968 (The Fair Housing Act) expanded on and was intended as a follow-up to the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act was known as the Fair Housing Act, later used as a shorthand description for the entire bill. It prohibited discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin and sex.

In 1988, Congress passed the Fair Housing Amendments Act, which expanded the law to prohibit discrimination in housing based on disability or on family status (pregnant women or the presence of children under 18). In 2021, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) extended the protections under the Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Categories of housing includedin the Act include single-family homes that are not privately owned; privately owned homes if a broker is used in the transaction; houses owned by a person who owns four or more houses; houses owned by a person who sells two or more houses belonging to others in a two-year period. It also covers multifamily housing—any building or complex with four or more units, and all multifamily units if none of the units is occupied by the owner.

Prohibited Acts

The Act prohibits discrimination in sales, leasing, advertising sales or rentals, financing or brokerage services. The prohibited acts of discrimination are
• refusing to rent to, sell to, or deal with a person,
• quoting different terms or conditions for buying or renting,
• steering—advertising that housing is available to only people of certain races, colors, sex, religion, or national origin, family status or handicap; guiding home seekers into any neighborhood based on discrimination,
• making any false statement about the availability of housing,
• block-busting is making statements that a minority group may move into a neighborhood with the intent of persuading an owner to sell,
• redlining is the act of a lender or insurance company denying loans or presenting different terms or conditions for certain neighborhoods, and
• denying membership in a broker’s group concerned with the sale or rental of housing.

Persons Not Covered Under the Fair Housing Act

Students are not protected. Neither are low-income persons or smokers. Age and sexual orientation are not mentioned in the Act. Discrimination based on sexual orientation, however, is prohibited by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and its FHA loan programs.

Religious organizations

Religious organizations may restrict sales and rentals of property that they own unless membership in the organization is dependent on race, color, religion, or national origin.

Private clubs

Private clubs that provide lodgings that they own for non-commercial purposes may restrict rentals to members of the club.

Housing for Older Persons Act

The Housing for Older Persons Act allows certain communities to refuse to allow children to reside on the property. In order to qualify for this status, at least 80 percent of the units must have one or more persons who are at least 55 years old. The Act does not permit these communities to discriminate based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, or disability.

Equal Housing Opportunity Poster

Brokers should post the Equal Housing Opportunity Poster in all offices. Failure to do so shifts the burden of proof in discrimination cases to the broker.

Enforcement of the Fair Housing laws 

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) enforces the Fair Housing Law. Persons have one year to file a discrimination complaint with the agency. The Department will attempt to bring the parties together for a conciliation meeting with the goal of reaching a signed conciliation agreement. If any party later breaches, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) may file suit to enforce the agreement. If there is a pattern of discrimination, the DOJ may bring a civil suit on behalf of the injured party in the federal courts.

HUD considers charges of discrimination to be true unless disproven by other evidence, but the burden of proof is on the accused party. It is not an admissible defense to say “I did not know I was discriminating.”

Florida Fair Housing Law

The Florida Fair Housing Act (Chapter 760, F.S.) is modeled after the federal act, prohibiting discrimination against persons based on the same protected classes. The Florida act gives persons the option of suing in the state court system, rather than the federal courts.