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What Should I Do If I Suspect Housing Discrimination?

Just because there is a Federal law that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, nationality, gender, familial status (the presence of children under 18 in the family or for being pregnant), disability or handicap, and age (55 or older) doesn't mean that discrimination does not occur. It does. And it happens in the areas of renting, buying and financing property.

State averages on discrimination complaints is 7.6 complaints per 100,000 units. That may not seem like very many, but it is when you are the one being discriminated against. The states highest in discrimination complaints are Nebraska with 17, followed by Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, Hawaii and Wyoming. The states with the lowest number of complaints are Alaska, Minnesota, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Here is how to recognize if you are being discriminated against.
  • Refusing to sell or rent to someone based on one of the identified categories.
  • A real estate agent shows a person houses only in certain neighborhoods and indicates resistance in showing other homes in other neighborhoods. This is called "steering" and is illegal.
  • A landlord says the unit has already been rented but the sign or ad is still posted.
  • A landlord charges higher rent or deposits for people of different nationalities or races.
  • Landlords are enforcing rules for some tenants but not others and not making repairs based on the tenant having one of the protected characteristics.
While discrimination can be blatant, in many cases it is subtle. Here is an example. A landlord rents only basement unit apartments to African-American tenants. It is obvious that discrimination is occurring. But take this same situation where the landlord rents only basement apartments to families with children. He explains that children are noisy and this is where he needs them to be for the peace and quiet of all tenants. Its sounds convincing but it is discrimination regardless.

What should you do if you feel you are being discriminated against?
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recommends you contact them immediately. The HUD web site lists contact numbers for each state. They will assign the case a fair housing specialist who will investigate to determine if a violation of the Fair Housing Act has occurred.

For more information, visit http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/topics/housing_discrimination

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