People with Disabilities and the Fair Housing Act

This year, the federal Fair Housing Act celebrates its 45th anniversary. In celebration, we will highlight what the Fair Housing Act does and how it affects people with disabilities.

What is the Fair Housing Act?

The Fair Housing Act, enacted in 1968, prohibits discrimination by direct providers of housing, such as landlords and real estate companies, as well as other organizations, businesses, or municipalities, including lending institutions or home owners insurance companies “whose discriminatory practices make housing unavailable to persons because of race or color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, or disability.” (The US Department of Justice.) The DOJ may bring lawsuits under the Fair Housing Act where there is evidence that the discriminatory actions of a person (such as a landlord) or entity (such as a bank) are a regular practice, rather than an isolated instance.

How does this affect people with disabilities?

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in every type of housing transaction. It defines persons with a disability as an individual “with mental or physical impairments that substantially limit one or more major life activities.” (DOJ) For people with disabilities who may live together in congregate living arrangements, the Fair Housing Act prohibits municipalities and other government entities “from making zoning or land use decisions or implementing land use policies that exclude or otherwise discriminate against” people with disabilities (DOJ). The Fair Housing Act also affects accessibility features in new construction by defining discrimination in housing as a failure “to design and construct” certain new multi-family dwellings so that they are inaccessible to and un-useable by people with disabilities. The Act has certain design requirements and holds developers, builders, owners and architects responsible for failure to comply.

If you believe you have been discriminated against, the Fair Housing Act provides procedures for handling individual complaints. You may file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or you can file your own lawsuit in federal or state court. The DOJ will bring suits on behalf of individuals based on referrals from HUD. When the rights guaranteed by the Fair Housing Act are interfered with through the use of force or through a threat of force, the DOJ may bring criminal prosecutions that can result in prison sentences and/or fines for those convicted of these crimes. You can contact the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division if you believe you have been a victim of such a crime.

Here are some resources dealing with the Fair Housing Act and people with disabilities:

About mpgarcia

I'm the Bilingual Information/Media Specialist at NARIC.
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