Every April, we observe Fair Housing Month – a time dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of equal housing opportunities for all in America.
Today, it seems almost impossible to believe that people can be shut out of housing opportunities and neighborhoods they like simply because invisible lines, defined entirely by social expectations and prejudice.
Unfortunately, that sort of thing isn’t relegated to the distant past. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) now prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. It only became the law in 1968, and it has undergone numerous changes throughout the years as the fight to eliminate unfair housing restrictions continues.
Let’s explore why Fair Housing Month is important and what both homebuyers and sellers alike need to know about it.
Why Is Fair Housing Month Important?
The Fair Housing Act was passed in the wake of the civil rights movement, at a time when discrimination in housing was rampant. Despite progress in the past 50 years or so, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) reports that housing discrimination is actually increasing, not decreasing.
Even though housing discrimination data was collected from fewer agencies than before, the NFHA says there were 31,216 complaints filed in 2021 – which represents an 8.7% increase over 2020 alone. Much of this is attributed to weakened federal protections and oversights in recent years, which may have emboldened some bad actors.
Historically speaking, red-line districts and mortgage discrimination were used to keep neighborhoods segregated by race, religion and national origin. Most people still think of housing discrimination as something that’s primarily associated with race. But more than 53% of the Fair Housing complaints in 2021 were related to disability discrimination, while just under 19% were related to race. It is challenging, however, to compare the two categories as apples-to-apples, since in many cases, it’s much harder to prove disparate treatment based on race.
Fair Housing Month is an opportunity to raise awareness about the ongoing battle for housing equality in this country. It is also a time to reflect on the progress and mistakes that have been made, and to consider what more needs to be done to ensure that everyone has access to safe, decent and affordable housing.
What Should Homebuyers Know About Fair Housing?
To end housing discrimination for good, everybody has to do their part – and would-be homebuyers (or renters) are not powerless in this situation. Knowing your rights under the Fair Housing Act can help you fight back against both overt and subtle housing discrimination.
Here are a few key things to keep in mind:
- Discrimination over a protected status is illegal. This means that homeowners and real estate agents cannot refuse to sell to you or treat you differently in any way because of your race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or disabilities.
- Be aware of coded language. Some sellers may try to discriminate in subtle ways. For example, they may use coded language that is intended to exclude certain groups of people. If you are feeling like you are being steered into a neighborhood that matches your protected characteristics only, and none of your other housing preferences, that may indicate an issue.
- Be conscious of lending discrimination. Disability income or housing vouchers should be treated as income.
Finally, know your options. If you believe that you have been the victim of housing discrimination, several options are available to you. You can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana or with your state’s fair housing agency. You can also contact a private attorney who specializes in fair housing cases.
What Sellers Should Know About Fair Housing
Most sellers are aware of this, but it still bears repeating: You cannot refuse to sell your home to someone because of their protected status. Even if you’d never do so purposefully, it’s still important to be aware of unconscious biases that could affect your judgment and put you on the wrong side of the Fair Housing Act.
- Be careful when advertising your home. Avoid using language that could be interpreted as discriminatory or that could suggest a preference for certain types of buyers. For example, phrases such as “perfect for walkers” or “ideal for young professionals” could be seen as discriminatory.
- Do not steer buyers away from your neighborhood based on “fit.” You should not, for example, suggest that an LGBTQA+ couple might feel out of place in your conservative neighborhood or that a person of color might feel “more comfortable” in a more diverse setting.
- Do not accept “love letters” from would-be buyers. This has been a trend that’s been largely discouraged by reputable real estate agents, but buyers sometimes still try to coax a seller into choosing their bid over any others in hot markets by stressing how much they love the property. Those letters may seem harmless, but they can reveal information about a would-be buyer, like their familial status, that could later be the basis for a claim of housing bias.
Finally, you need to understand that housing discrimination is illegal and can have serious consequences. If you are found to have violated the Fair Housing Act, you could face fines, a civil claim for damages and other penalties.
More than half a century has passed since the Fair Housing Act started making progress toward housing equality for all people, but there are still far too many discrimination complaints made each year to say that the problem is in the past.
Here at Talk to Tucker, we take our commitment to embrace diversity and promote equality seriously, and we proudly support the rights of all people to pursue their homeownership dreams.