The Fair Housing Act is a federal act in the United States intended to protect the buyer or renter of a dwelling from seller or landlord discrimination. Its primary prohibition makes it unlawful to refuse to sell, rent to, or negotiate with any person because of that person’s inclusion in a protected class. The goal is a unitary housing market in which a person’s background (as opposed to financial resources) does not arbitrarily restrict access. Calls for open housing were issued early in the twentieth century, but it was not until after World War II that concerted efforts to achieve it were undertaken.
The legislation was the culmination of a civil rights campaign against housing discrimination in the United States and was approved by President Lyndon B. Johnson one week after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Fair Housing Act was enacted as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, and codified at 42 U.S.C. 3601-3619, with penalties for violation at 42 U.S.C. 3631. It is enforced by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The Fair Housing Act (Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968) introduced meaningful federal enforcement mechanisms. It outlaws:
- Refusal to sell or rent a dwelling to any person because of race, color, disability, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.
- Discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, or national origin in the terms, conditions or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling.
- Advertising the sale or rental of a dwelling indicating preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, disability or national origin.
- Coercing, threatening, intimidating, or interfering with a person’s enjoyment or exercise of housing rights based on discriminatory reasons or retaliating against a person or organization that aids or encourages the exercise or enjoyment of fair housing rights.
When the Fair Housing Act was first enacted, it prohibited discrimination only on the basis of race, color, religion, and national origin. Sex was added as a protected characteristic in 1974. In 1988, disability and familial status (the presence or anticipated presence of children under 18 in a household) were added (further codified in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990). In certain circumstances, the law allows limited exceptions for discrimination based on sex, religion, or familial status