The U.S. federal government has declared that certain categories of people are protected from housing discrimination under the Fair Housing Act, or FHA.
These "protected classes" cannot be discriminated against when renting or selling a unit or when posting a listing.
Not every class of people counts as a protected class.
Many landlords are confused about who is considered protected under the FHA - especially since the categories in question, and interpretations of those categories, have varied over time.
What follows is a breakdown of the protected classes included (or not included) under the FHA, but for specific rulings and up-to-date information, it's always best to consult a lawyer and your local laws.
Seven protected classes fall under the FHA's jurisdiction.
The first two are race and color.
"Color" refers specifically to the color of one's skin, whereas "race" refers to the categories most people in the United States are familiar with - Black or African American, White or Caucasian and so forth.
Be aware that ethnicities like Hispanic, Latino/a, and Chicano/a are considered to be racial distinctions, and therefore are protected classes under the FHA.
Religion is the third protected class; you are forbidden from discriminating against someone's beliefs or religious practices, or lack thereof, when offering housing.
The fourth class, national origin, prohibits discriminating against someone because of where they come from.
The fifth class, sex, is traditionally interpreted to stop discrimination against men or women.
Several court cases in the last ten to twenty years have explicitly ruled that the existence of this protected class prohibits discrimination against transgender and non-binary people.
Disability is the sixth class, and includes physical and mental disabilities.
If your tenant is disabled, you're expected to make reasonable accommodations for them.
Depending on their situation, this may include things like allowing the tenant a service animal without charging a pet fee, or installing reasonable accommodations like wheelchair ramps.
The seventh class is familial status.
You cannot refuse to rent from someone, for instance, solely because they have children or are planning to do so (although special provisions exist for housing for senior citizens).
Who Isn't Protected?
Many classes may be protected on a state or local level, but may not enjoy simultaneous protection on the federal level.
As of this writing, sexual orientation (i.e., gay, straight, bisexual and so forth) is not a protected class under the FHA.
The same goes for source of income or marital status, though you will want to check with your local laws to make sure that they do not name further classes that may not be protected federally, but are protected on the local level.
Protected Classes in Action
It is, of course, completely legal to not rent to someone who's in a protected class, but you need to be sure that you're not making this decision because of their status in that protected class.
If, for instance, you learn that a potential tenant is disabled, but they also have several evictions on their record, you can decide to not rent to them - assuming, of course, that you would reasonably make the same decision for another tenant who did not fall into a protected class.
The Fair Housing Act was a landmark piece of legislation for protecting several disenfranchised groups from discrimination at the hands of landlords, property management companies, homeowners and mortgage companies.
While the penalty for violating the FHA may vary, violations typically incur fines and/or jail time.
For your safety, and the well-being of your tenants, it's important to know what protected class fall under the FHA's jurisdiction and to stay abreast of any changes in interpretation.
When it comes to having a tenant for the first time, it can be pretty daunting because you are going to be the corresponding landlord and a new relationship will emerge, which will need time to grow... More
Many times, there are issues between a landlord and a tenant that need to be resolved but are failed to do so, because both parties have gone too far with their actions, and have retaliated in the... More
The landlord and tenant laws in California are literally the same as they are in any other state. These laws, rules and regulations are put into practice because they uphold an order, a discipline,... More
People are aware that there are different rulings in each state with reference to the landlord/tenant laws. The state of Illinois also has a set of laws. These rules and regulations are basically... More
When it comes to reviewing a rental application, all of it may seem daunting; you will find it overwhelming because there is so much information that you yourself have to go through before the tenant... More
Where there is a landlord, there will also be a tenant, and it is no surprise that these two parties can only work together once there is some sort of agreement, contract or a binding deal in place.... More
Many landlords find it difficult to write and draft a lease agreement. Since every State has its own general template, it can also be difficult to make sure your lease agreement meets all the criteria... More
All landlords know that before they can formally become a landlord there are a lot of things they need to understand. Landlords and tenants cannot act as such without any legal bodies involved. That... More
When it comes to being a landlord, one should know that it is not for the unprepared individual. This should be clear that being a landlord does not simply mean that you will be taking the rent and... More
Becoming a landlord is a major deal and no one can simply get up and think, “well, yes I think I should be a landlord and rent out my flat.” If you are thinking that you would like to be a landlord,... More