There are two sources of Fair Housing laws, which prohibit a wide variety of discriminatory practices. The federal laws are an absolute minimum that apply in all fifty states. Some states have greater protections for residents within their borders. You can find information by going to the website of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) at www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/ index.cfm. Appendix E to this book also contains the websites for local HUD offices in your states, and your local attorney general’s office of consumer affairs.
As a general matter, the federal laws prohibit discrimination if it is based on one of the so-called suspect classifications. They include:
• alienage (not a citizen);
• national origin;
• marital status;
• family status (families with children under 19); and,
• some states include protections based on sexual orientation and other factors.
There are three common types of illegal discrimination. The first is explicit discrimination, which means refusing to do something based on the presence of one of the suspect classifications. This would be if you refused to rent to Latinos, for example, or families with young children. The second type is called disparate impact discrimination. It arises when you do something that does not seem discriminatory on its face, but which has a greater adverse impact on some groups than on other groups. As an example, a landlord might refuse to rent to victims of domestic violence in order to minimize the risk of future violence in the rental property. Since most victims of domestic violence are women, this policy would have a greater impact on women than on men. It would be disparate impact, different impact, discrimination. The third type is called refusal to make reasonable accommodations. It occurs when someone with a disability asks you to make a reasonable adjustment for his or her benefit, and you refuse. For more examples, and guidelines, check out the U.S. Department of Justice website pages at www.ada.gov.