The Fair Housing Act was enacted in 1968 by the federal government to prohibit discrimination by housing providers—including landlords, real estate companies, municipalities, banks or other lending institutions, and homeowners insurance companies—in the private or public purchase, sale, rental, or financing of housing.
At its inception, the Fair Housing Act prohibited discrimination based on race, skin color, sex, nationality, or religion. In 1974, the federal government expanded protections to include gender, and in 1988, disability and family status (including children under the age of 18 living with parents or legal custodians, pregnancy, and people securing custody of children under 18). While state and local laws can expand on federal fair housing law protections, they cannot detract from or reduce them.
While most housing must abide by the Fair Housing Act, the following are circumstances in which fair housing laws might be exempt:
Among other things, federal fair housing laws make it illegal to take the following actions based on protected classes:
The Fair Housing Act is enforced at the federal level by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The U.S. Department of Justice can also file a lawsuit based on referrals from HUD against anyone who is alleged to have engaged in a “pattern or practice” of discrimination or discriminated against a protected class. Individuals can also file complaints with HUD, or file a lawsuit in federal or state court.