Fair Housing & Homebuyers
Housing discrimination happens every day to homebuyers throughout Oregon. Many times, discrimination goes unreported, but to effect the change we want to see with fair housing principles becoming the standard in every transaction, we need those impacted by discrimination to speak up.
How Fair Housing Law Works for Homebuyers
The federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for real estate agents, mortgage brokers, lenders, insurance companies, homeowners, condominium associations, and government bodies to discriminate against anyone based on “protected class status.”
Federally Protected Classes
Illegal housing discrimination based on race is illegal under the federal Fair Housing Act. It includes targeting a person based on their physical characteristics associated with race (e.g., skin color, hair texture, or facial features) or the cultural practices or characteristics associated with a particular race.
The federal Fair Housing Act protects each one of us equally against illegal housing discrimination based on the color of our skin. This means that one may not be treated differently, denied, or harassed in a housing setting or transaction because of one's skin color.
Your national origin refers to your birthplace, ancestry, language, and/or customs. It is illegal for a landlord to deny housing or treat someone differently in a housing transaction because a) of a person's name, appearance, accent, or participation in customs associated with a nationality; b) the landlord incorrectly perceives the person as being associated with a particular nationality; or c) the person associates with people of a particular national origin.
It is illegal under the federal Fair Housing Act to discriminate because of religious beliefs — or lack of religious beliefs. It is illegal to refuse to rent or sell because of religion or to treat tenants, homebuyers, or HOA members differently because of their religion.
Sex became a protected class under federal fair housing law in 1974. In 2021, HUD expanded the definition to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Today, most acts of sex discrimination consist of behaviors based on assumptions about men/women and/or sexual harassment. Women, particularly those who are poor and have limited housing options, often have little recourse but to tolerate the humiliation and degradation of sexual harassment or risk having their families and themselves removed from their homes.
Disability, under the federal Fair Housing Act, is broadly defined to include any physical or mental condition that creates a substantial "major life impairment" such as difficulty seeing, walking, or thinking. An individual can qualify as disabled if they a) demonstrate that they have an existing mental or physical impairment that substantially limits a major life function; b) demonstrate that the housing provider believed that they were substantially limited in a major life function; or c) demonstrate that they have a record of a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life function.
Familial status means having a child under age 18 in the household, whether living with a parent, a legal custodian, or their designee. It also covers pregnancies and people in the process of adopting or gaining custody of a child/children.
Additional State Protected Classes
The Fair Housing Act covers victims of domestic violence under gender/sex. Therefore, policies having to do with housing that penalize victims of domestic violence because they are victims of domestic violence are prohibited. In addition, Oregon landlord-tenant law provides that victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking cannot be discriminated against. Landlords may not evict, threaten to evict, fail to renew the rental agreement/lease, increase the rent, decrease services, or refuse to enter into a rental agreement with someone who is a victim of any of the above.
Oregon has enacted fair housing laws to protect marital status. One marital status is not more protected than another. In other words, individuals may not be treated differently, denied, or harassed in a housing setting or transaction based on whether the residents are married or not.
Sexual orientation is a protected class under state and local fair housing laws. Sexual orientation is defined as an "individual’s actual or perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, or gender identity, regardless of whether the individual’s gender identity, appearance, expression or behavior differs from that traditionally associated with the individual’s assigned sex at birth." Most statutes include gender expression and identity under this protected class. It is important to note that one kind of sexual orientation or gender identity is not more protected than another; all of us are equally protected under the law.
Source of Income
While housing providers may make selection decisions based on the applicant’s level of income, they cannot refuse to rent, sell, or lend based on the source of income, assuming the source is legal and ongoing. Examples include a) a landlord may not deny an applicant because their source of income is a public assistance program, such as Social Security, Social Security Disability, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); b) a landlord cannot reject an applicant because they do not want to accept checks from a government or nonprofit agency such as the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS); or c) the landlord cannot reject an applicant solely because a portion of their rent is being paid by a local housing authority in the form of a Section 8 voucher.
All Housing Transactions Are Subject to Fair Housing Law
- Mortgage lending
- Building and construction
- Homeowners’ insurance
- Appraisals and inspections
- Land use regulations
- Neighbor-on-neighbor harassment
What Does Illegal Housing Discrimination Look Like for Homebuyers?
“You’d be more comfortable living somewhere else.”
“This house is really designed for just two people.”
“Let’s find you a home near a mosque.”
“I’m not sure you can afford this neighborhood.”
“Our complex isn’t really suitable for young children.”
Illegal housing discrimination comes in all manners, and it’s often subtle.
Watch for signs like these that could indicate illegal housing discrimination:
- A real estate agent directs you toward housing in a particular area, neighborhood, zip code, or section of town instead of allowing you to make that choice yourself.
- Your application is turned down for a mortgage because the gender on your ID card differs from what you put on the application.
- You have a disability, and the condo board won’t allow you to install grab bars in your bathroom — even at your own expense.
- A homeowners’ association disallows the sale of a home to a family with an assistance animal.
- A mortgage lender offers you a loan but at a higher rate because “people like you tend to default on their mortgages.”
- An appraiser downgrades the value of your home because it’s in a neighborhood with a greater concentration of people who are immigrants.
Steps to Take if You Encounter Illegal Housing Discrimination
- Keep a record of all documents, letters, receipts, contracts, emails, voicemail messages, and notices.
- Take pictures of the issue, if possible.
- Get names and numbers of the people involved.
- Take down details (date of the incident, address where it happened, costs you incur, etc.).
- Talk to neighbors — you might not be the only person experiencing the issue.
After the discrimination occurs, you have up to 1 year to file a complaint and up to 2 years to file a personal injury lawsuit.
No Reason for Homebuyers to Fear Filing a Fair Housing Complaint
It is illegal for anyone to threaten or harass you for filing a fair housing complaint against them. When you come to FHCO for assistance, we will not share your information without your permission with anyone.
Contact FHCO today to review what happened and learn how your rights under fair housing law might have been impacted. FHCO is a non-profit, non-governmental organization committed to affirmatively promoting fair housing principles throughout Oregon.
Our hotline services are free and confidential, and our staff will listen to your situation and determine how best to assist. We will go over your options, including information about how to use mediation to resolve your issue. Often, a phone call from an FHCO staff member or letter from our enforcement team to the other party explaining their duties under federal or state law settles the matter quickly and equitably.
If necessary, though, we can assist with filing a complaint with the appropriate government agency or bringing a lawsuit in federal or state court.