What Does Equal Housing Opportunity Mean?

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What Does Equal Housing Opportunity Mean?

DEFINITION

Equal Housing Opportunity (EHO) laws require all housing providers (including landlords, real estate companies, and mortgage lenders) to give everyone an equal chance to buy or rent a home. They can’t discriminate against you because of your race, color, religion, sex, national origin, family status, or disability.

Key Takeaways

  • Equal housing opportunity laws protect tenants and homebuyers from discrimination in housing based on their race, color, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, family status, or disability status.
  • Sellers, real estate agents, appraisers, lenders, insurance providers, and landlords are are all affected by these laws. 
  • If you believe you have been discriminated against, you can file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and/or file a law suit.

How Do Equal Housing Opportunity Laws Work?

You have the right to choose where to live. Federal law protects you from discrimination when buying, renting, or financing a home. 

Blockbusting, steering, and redlining are also illegal under the Fair Housing Act. This means lenders and landlords may not try to influence what people do with their property, pressure tenants to sell or rent to a particular person, or draw artificial lines around neighborhoods to limit housing options for certain people based on protected characteristics.

What Type of Housing is Covered?

While most forms of housing are covered by these laws, there are some exceptions. For example, organizations and clubs that provide housing and have membership requirements may be exempt from specific law provisions. These laws also might not apply to some owner-occupied buildings with four units or fewer, or single-family housing that is sold or rented without a broker or agent.

Who Is Protected?

The Fair Housing Act is one of the main equal housing opportunity laws. It protects you from being discriminated against for the following reasons:

  • Race or color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation or gender identity 
  • Sex 
  • Familial status (including children under 18 and pregnant women)
  • Disability

A housing provider is not allowed to refuse to sell, rent, or finance a home for you because you have one of these protected statuses. Nor can they use that as a reason to set different terms or conditions for the sale, rental, or financing of a dwelling.

In addition, landlords or property owners must not refuse reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. For example, even a building with a “no pets” policy must allow you to live with a service animal that supports your disability. 

Otherwise, they violate the law and, if found guilty, may need to compensate you for damages and face other consequences such as fines of tens of thousands of dollars. You may also file a private lawsuit against the respondent.

Important

These laws have some legal exceptions, such as the Housing for Older People exemption, which allows communities providing senior housing not to accept families with minor children.

Who Enforces Equal Housing Opportunity Laws?

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) enforces these laws. HUD is a federal agency that works to ensure equal access to housing and promotes fair housing opportunities. 

Equal Housing Opportunity and Rentals

Fair housing laws cover nearly all types of properties, including rental properties. Therefore, landlords and property managers must follow these laws when renting units. This includes when they advertise properties, screen applicants, and set rental terms.

For example, when advertising a property, a landlord may not include terms such as “Christians only” or “Great for families” in their ad. This could be seen as discriminating against potential tenants who are not Christian or do not have children.

In addition, landlords cannot set different rental terms and conditions based on a tenant’s membership in a protected class. This includes setting different prices for rent, requiring different security deposits, or having different rules for the use of common areas.

Equal Housing Opportunity and Home Sales

The Fair Housing Act also covers home sales. As a result, home sellers, real estate agents, appraisers, and mortgage lenders can’t discriminate against home buyers based on their membership in a protected class.

Ensuring that these laws aren’t violated is a team effort. Each person who works toward the home’s sale, from the real estate agent to the mortgage lender, must do their part to ensure that the house is sold without discrimination.

Here’s a look at the rights and responsibilities of those involved.

Homebuyers

Homebuyers have the right to not be discriminated against based on protected attributes. That applies to the way housing is made available, financed, appraised, or insured for them.3 It means that, for instance, you should be allowed to buy housing anywhere you can afford it.

If you’re buying a home, lenders can only judge your financial qualifications, such as your credit score, credit report, income, and assets. According to the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, they’re not supposed to make decisions based on whether or not your income comes from public assistance.

Sellers

Sellers are responsible for completing their home sale without discrimination. That means you can’t legally make a decision about who buys your home based on the buyer’s membership in any of the protected categories. 

Also, you may not instruct your real estate agent to show the property to certain types of buyers or to use specific language in ads that could discourage certain groups from making an offer.

Mortgage Lenders

Lenders can’t refuse to provide information about loans or deny a mortgage loan because the applicant is a member of a protected class. They also can’t discriminate when providing the terms and conditions of loans to applicants.

Appraisers

Home valuations are a vital part of the homebuying process. A current appraisal determines how much a lender is willing to loan a buyer and helps the buyer know how much they can afford to pay.

Appraisers must appraise a property without considering the current or potential occupants’ race, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, or disability status.

Additionally, appraisers are responsible for ensuring all of their reports are completed without bias. This includes ensuring that the information has no comments or observations about the neighborhood that could be seen as discriminatory.

Real Estate Agents

Real estate agents play an important role in ensuring that home buyers and sellers are treated fairly throughout the transaction. They must comply with fair housing laws when advertising properties, representing clients, and completing transactions.

This includes not discriminating against clients or potential clients, not steering them toward or away from particular neighborhoods or types of homes, and not making any discriminatory comments.

Laws Related to Equal Housing Opportunity 

HUD enforces several laws related to equal housing opportunities. Here’s a quick overview of a few that have shaped current equal housing opportunity requirements.

Fair Housing Act 

This is the most comprehensive federal law related to equal housing opportunity. It prohibits discrimination in all aspects of housing, including renting, financing, and appraising. It’s also known as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 

This law prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in any program or activity that receives federal funding, including housing. It also requires reasonable accommodations to allow people with disabilities equal access to housing.

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

HUD oversees parts of this law related to housing for people with disabilities. No discrimination may occur in public housing, housing assistance, or referrals for homes.

The Equal Credit Opportunity Act 

Because of this law, it’s illegal for financial institutions to discriminate against credit applicants based on race, religion, sex, national origin, marital status, age, or because they get public assistance.  

It also requires lenders to give applicants the same information about credit terms and to consider all of their qualifications, regardless of their membership in a protected class.

What To Do If You Experience Housing Discrimination?

If you believe you have experienced housing discrimination, you can file a complaint with HUD or your state’s fair housing agency. You need to do this within one year of the incident.

HUD investigates complaints and works with the parties involved to resolve the problem. If they can’t, HUD may file a lawsuit on your behalf.

You can also file a private lawsuit against the person or organization you believe discriminated against you, even if you’ve also filed a HUD complaint. You have two years to do this from the time of the most recent violation.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the relationship between equal opportunity housing and Section 8?

The Section 8 program is government-funded and provides housing choice vouchers to low-income families, the disabled, and the elderly. While HUD oversees both programs,  they are separate.

However, because the program assists people who might otherwise have difficulty finding affordable housing, it can help promote equal opportunity in housing.

Who qualifies for equal opportunity housing?

Everyone deserves to be treated fairly in housing, regardless of race, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, disability status, or any other characteristic protected by law. Thus, the only qualifications are that you are a protected class member. 

What are the income restrictions for equal opportunity housing?

There are no income restrictions for equal opportunity housing. HUD’s goal is to provide everyone with a fair chance to find housing that meets their needs, regardless of their income.

However, other HUD programs, such as Section 8, have income restrictions. So if you’re trying to move into public housing, your income will be considered. The amount you can earn varies depending on your location and family size.

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