The Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act was enacted as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 to protect tenants and buyers of real property from housing discrimination. The Act prohibits direct providers of housing from depriving people of housing opportunities due to their race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin or disability. The protection of the Act includes almost every part of renting or buying housing. It ensures fairness in obtaining a mortgage, insurance and an impartial appraisal of a dwelling. It prohibits landlords from setting more restrictive requirements for certain people or refusing to rent to someone based on discriminatory criteria. Furthermore, the Act protects those who have lodged a complaint from retaliation. If you feel you have encountered housing discrimination, an experienced lawyer can advise you about the best way to proceed with your case.
Protected Classes in the Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act bans discrimination against “protected classes”. Members of a protected class share a common trait and are legally protected from discrimination on the basis of that characteristic. The seven groups protected by federal law in the Fair Housing Act are race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status.
Additional Protection in Washington
Some states, including Washington, have expanded on the Fair Housing Act by adding additional classes of people that are protected from housing discrimination. Washington includes protection based on marital status, gender identity, sexual orientation, immigration or citizenship status, veteran or military status, and for families with children.
Some cities within Washington offer protection from housing discrimination to even more of their residents. Seattle, Bellevue, Richmond, and unincorporated King County have made it illegal to discriminate against the holders of Section 8 vouchers. Landlords are not allowed to deny rental units because someone will use a Section 8 voucher to pay for their rent and cannot charge such tenants more than they charge tenants who do not use Section 8 vouchers. Landlords are allowed to impose minimum income requirements of up to three times the amount of your portion of the monthly rent.
Filing a Complaint
If you are experiencing housing discrimination you have several options to consider before deciding on a course of action. It is possible to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Washington State Human Rights Commission, a City Human Rights Office or in civil court. In a civil lawsuit you can recover your out-of-pocket losses, emotional distress damages, punitive damages as well as payment of your attorney’s fees. The court can also order permanent injunctive relief such as an order to not discriminate or equitable relief including ordering that housing be made available to you. It is important to understand your options if you have been the victim of housing discrimination and what course of action will be most beneficial to you and your situation.