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Fair Housing is Everyone's Right!

Stating a discriminatory preference in a housing post is illegal


When making any posting on TNOL.com, you must comply with section 3604(c) of the Federal Fair Housing Act. This law generally prohibits stating, in any notice or ad for the sale or rental of a dwelling, a discriminatory preference based on any of the following protected categories:

  • Race or Color
  • National Origin
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Familial Status (more)
  • Handicap / Disability (more)

The Fair Housing Act provides additional protections, and limited exceptions, that are explained in publications from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD") and the Department of Justice.

HUD has issued guidance on advertising, including for roommates.

State and local laws often prohibit discrimination based on other factors (e.g. sexual orientation, age, marital status, or source of income).

You may report housing discrimination to HUD at 1-800-669-9777, or to a fair housing advocate near you.

In addition to penalties that may be applied by regulatory agencies, attempts to post discriminatory ads may be blocked and/or subjected to other remedial measures.

If you have any questions, or would like to report a discriminatory ad appearing on this site, please contact Customer Service


Frequently Asked Questions:

What are the laws for roommates and shared housing?
Are there any exceptions to the advertising laws?
What are the "protected cateogries" in my area?
What is "familial status"?
Who is exempted from laws prohibiting "familial status" discrimination?
How does the law define "handicap"?
What should I do if I find a discriminatory posting?
Recognizing a discriminatory posting
Examples of Discriminatory Advertisements
Other Resources


What are the laws for roommates and shared housing?

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Federal Fair Housing laws for roommates and shared housing have two components: advertising and decision-making.

  • Advertising: Federal Fair Housing laws prohibit discriminatory advertising in all housing, regardless of how large or small the property. However, as discussed below, advertising which expresses a preference based upon sex is allowed in shared living situations where tenants will share a bathroom, kitchen, or other common area.
  • Decision-making: Although the prohibition on discriminatory advertising applies to roommate and shared housing situations, federal Fair Housing laws do not cover the basis of decisions made by landowners who own less than four units, and live in one of the units. This means that in a situation in which a landlord owns less than four rental units, and lives in one of the units, it is legal for the owner to discriminate in the selection process based on the aforementioned categories, but it is illegal for that owner to advertise or otherwise make a statement expressing that discriminatory preference.

Are there any exceptions to the advertising laws?

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Under federal Fair Housing law, the prohibition on discriminatory advertisements applies to all situations except the following:

  • Shared Housing Exemption -- If you are advertising a shared housing unit, in which tenants will be sharing a bathroom, kitchen, or other common area, you may express a preference based upon sex only.
  • Private Club and Religious Exemptions -- A religious community or private club whose membership is not restricted based upon race, color, or national origin may restrict tenancy only to its members in a property that it owns, and may advertise to that effect.
  • Housing for Older Persons Exemption -- As discussed below, certain complexes for elderly persons are exempt from prohibitions on familial status discrimination, including the prohibitions on discriminatory advertising.

What are the "protected cateogries" in my area?

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The "protected categories" under state and local Fair Housing laws may differ depending on where you reside.

Federal law prohibits discrimination based on the following protected categories:

State and local laws often extend anti-discrimination protections to other categories, such as age, marital status, or sexual orientation. Click your state below for a brief summary of state Fair Housing laws in your state. Please note that not all states have additional Fair Housing laws.

AK - AR - CA - CT - DE - DC - FL - GA - HI - ID - IL - IN - IA - KS - KY - ME - MD - MA - MI - MN - MO - MT - NE - NV - NH - NJ - NY - NC - ND - OH - OR - PA - RI - SC - SD - TN - VT - VA - WA - WV - WI


What is "familial status"?

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"Familial status" means the presence of children under the age of 18.

Unless otherwise exempted, it is illegal to:

  • discriminate against families with children
  • discourage families with children from renting a unit
  • steer families with children to a particular area of an apartment complex
  • establish rules, regulations, or policies that discriminate or have a disparate impact on families with children
  • discriminate against pregnant women
  • discriminate against anyone in process of securing legal custody of a child under age 18

Who is exempted from laws prohibiting "familial status" discrimination?

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Under federal Fair Housing laws, "housing for older persons" is exempted from the prohibitions on "familial status" discrimination.

"Housing for older persons" is defined as either of the following:

  1. Housing occupied solely by persons 62 years of age or older; or
  2. Housing in which 80% of the occupied units have at least one person 55 years of age or older, and which meet certain other requirements.

This exemption applies only to familial status discrimination; discrimination against all other protected categories, including disability, is still prohibited in housing for older persons.


How does the law define "handicap"?

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Federal law defines "handicap" as any "physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of [a] person's major life activities, a record of having such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment."

Further discussion of the definition of "handicap" can be found in the section 100.201 of Title 24 of the Code of Federal Regulations (24 C.F.R. 100.201). Your state laws may also have broader definitions of "handicap."


What should I do if I find a discriminatory posting?

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If you encounter a housing posting on TNOL.com that you believe violates the Fair Housing laws, please contact Customer Service

If you are not sure if the posting violates the Fair Housing act, you can contact Customer Service, HUD or your local Fair Housing center. If you have made contact with the poster and have been discriminated against based on one of the protected categories, you may file a claim with HUD or your local Fair Housing center as well.


Recognizing a discriminatory posting

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In general, a posting is discriminatory if it expresses a limitation or preference based on one of the protected categories, which may vary depending upon where you reside, but which always include the seven (7) federal categories. State or local laws may protect other categories. Go here for a quick summary of additional laws near you.

A posting is also discriminatory if it uses language that might be discouraging towards a certain protected category. For instance, saying that a particular apartment is "perfect for a single or couple" could be discouraging towards families with children, who do not fit within the stated groups. Please note that unintentionally discriminatory postings are still illegal.

Lastly, a posting is discriminatory if it uses language that might have a disparate, or disproportional, impact on a certain protected category. For instance, an advertisement for a 2 bedroom unit which states a preference for "2 persons only" might have a disparate impact on families with children because, though it does not explicitly state a preference based on familial status, it creates an overly restrictive occupancy limit which would affect families with children to a greater extent than other types of households. (For more information on reasonable occupancy limits, see HUD's guidance on occupancy standards.)


Examples of Discriminatory Advertisements

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Although not an exhaustive list, these examples should give you some idea of what might constitute a discriminatory housing advertisement.

1. race / color

  • postings stating a preference for the race of a desired applicant (eg. "no blacks," "whites only," etc)
  • postings describing the race of current occupants of the complex or neighborhood (eg. "African-American neighborhood," "most residents are Asian," "lots of Hispanic families," etc)

2. religion

  • postings stating a preference for the religion of a desired applicant (eg. "Christians only," "no Muslims," etc)
  • postings describing the religion of current occupants of the complex or neighborhood (eg. "nice, Christian neighborhood," "Jewish family seeks roommate," etc)

3. national origin

  • postings stating a preference for a certain national origin (eg. "no immigrants," "no foreigners," "Irish preferred," etc)
  • postings posted only in a language other than English
  • postings describing the national origin of current occupants of the complex or neighborhood (eg. "predominately Latino neighborhood," "mostly Asian residents," etc)

4. handicap / disability

  • postings stating a preference for able-bodied tenants (eg. "no wheelchairs," "must be able to live independently," etc)
  • postings describing the complex as unable to accomodate people with disabilities (eg. "units are not accessible", "no pets, even seeing eye dogs", etc)

5. familial status

  • postings stating a clear preference for families without children (eg. "no children," "no kids and no pets," "single occupancy only," etc)
  • postings that could discourage families with children (eg. "ideal for working professionals," "perfect for single or couple," "nice, quiet, mature, neighborhood," etc)

6. sex / gender *

  • postings stating a preference for one sex over another (eg. "no young men," "female preferred," etc)

* as discussed above, the prohibitions on advertising a preference based upon sex do not apply to shared housing situations.


Other Resources

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National Fair Housing Alliance -- a national organization dedicated to ending discrimination in housing

National Fair Housing Advocate -- an online resource for fair housing advocates and public on issues relating to housing discrimination

Housing.org -- the official site of Project Sentinel, one of the country's largest fair housing centers

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) -- the federal agency charged with investigating claims of housing discrimination

Guidance on advertising - published by HUD

Guidance on advertising - published by the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission

Guidance on Advertising - published by the Equal Rights Center


Please refer to the actual laws or your local Fair Housing center for more information of local laws.


 
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