Fair Housing Act - Know your rights

Obviously, complaints and lawsuits regarding housing discrimination require the expertise of a licensed attorney.  However, this article is an informal overview of what tenants should be aware of in order to help protect their rights because discrimination should not be tolerated. Home renters should know that it is illegal for a landlord to turn down a prospective tenant; to set different terms, conditions, or privileges for the rental of a dwelling; to provide different housing services or facilities; to falsely deny that housing is available for rental because of your race, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap.  It is also illegal for the landlord to threaten, coerce, intimidate you because your are a member of a certain protected class. It is a good idea to research the applicable "fair housing" laws of your state or municipality.

If the prospective tenant decides that he or she needs to take action against what he or she feels is discriminatory conduct, then there are a couple of options. The prospective tenant can either file an administrative complaint with the agency that is responsible for enforcing the law that the landlord has violated or sue the landlord in court. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is responsible for enforcing the federal fair housing laws.

Once the prospective tenant files a complaint and takes the landlord to court, he or she has the burden of proof in court for a housing discrimination case. The complainant will be required to prove four main elements (among others): (1) The complainant will have to show that he or she is a member of a protected class (race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, handicap). (2) The complainant had applied for and was qualified to rent the premises (3) The complainant was rejected by the landlord (4) The premises remained unrented after the complainant was rejected. If the prospective tenant wins, the court will probably force the landlord to rent the premises to the complainant. The landlord may also be ordered to pay punitive damages and the attorney’s fees incurred by the prospective tenant.

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