Join us for a live webinar on January 24th from 12pm-12:30pm: Fair Housing Basics

Renters

Fair Housing & Renters

Housing discrimination happens every day to renters throughout Oregon. Many times, people who experience discrimination fail to report the issue, afraid of what might happen to them as a result. We’re here to help you overcome the fear that comes from standing up for your fair housing rights when seeking an apartment or other rental housing.

Understanding Your Fair Housing Rights as a Renter

The federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for landlords, leasing agents, property management companies, maintenance staff, insurance companies, and government bodies to discriminate against anyone based on “protected class status.”

Federally Protected Classes

Race

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.

 

Color

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.

National Origin

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.

Religion

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

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

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

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

Domestic Violence

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.

Marital Status

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

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.

Criminal History

Landlords may consider an applicant’s criminal history on a case-by-case basis and have established criteria regarding how criminal history will affect consideration of an application.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued guidance in 2016 that requires landlords to account for the following when screening applicants with criminal histories:

  • Not consider arrest records that did not result in conviction, unless the charges are currently pending;
  • Consider how long ago a conviction occurred;
  • Consider what type of crimes they will screen for as they relate to the safety of the property and other tenants; and
  • Consider an applicant’s rehabilitation.

Fair Housing Laws Apply to All Housing Transactions

  • Rental applications
  • Tenancy (including move-out)
  • Renter’s insurance
  • Retirement homes
  • Adult foster care homes
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Homeless shelters
  • Neighbor-on-neighbor harassment

Fair Housing Law Provides for Reasonable Accommodations and Dwelling Modifications

Fair housing law requires landlords to consider all requests for reasonable accommodations and modifications to the rental unit if there is a disability-related need for such accommodations/modifications.

If the disability is verified, the landlord is legally required to make a reasonable accommodation — e.g., an exception to a no-pets policy — or permit you to make reasonable modifications to your apartment or rental home. Keep in mind that while a landlord cannot charge a pet deposit or pet rent for an assistance animal, they can require you to pay for modifications to your rental unit and removal of the modifications when you move out.

For the benefit of renters, we are providing below fillable forms that can be used to request a reasonable accommodation or modification. It is not necessary to disclose full details of your medical condition to your housing provider in such request letters.

If your disability is obvious (for instance, if you use a wheelchair), you can make the request for accommodation/modification without a third-party verification letter. If your disability isn’t obvious, a landlord might require you to provide a letter from a qualified individual who knows the person’s situation (examples include your medical or mental health provider, case manager, pastor, or drug or alcohol counselor) attesting to the disability and the necessity of the accommodation or modification. The person verifying your disability-related need can use the fillable form below titled Provider Verification Letter. The renter would then submit their request for reasonable accommodation/modification along with the completed third-party verification letter to their landlord.

Please contact us at information@fhco.org if you need any assistance or advocacy in the process.

What Does Illegal Housing Discrimination Look Like for Renters?

“You’d be more comfortable living somewhere else.”

“We prefer renters who speak English.”

“We don’t accept Section 8 vouchers.”

“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 property manager tells you the apartment is not available, but the unit is still being advertised.
  • A landlord requires you to pay a pet deposit or monthly pet rent for your assistance animal.
  • Your application is turned down for a rental because the gender on your ID card differs from what you put on the application.
  • You have a disability and aren’t allowed to install grab bars in your bathroom — even at your own expense.
  • While applying for rental housing, a landlord turns down your application due to poor rental history directly connected to a past domestic violence situation — even when you provided documentation from a qualified individual as proof of that connection.
  • Building code staff approves a new multifamily housing complex that does not meet federal accessibility standards under fair housing law.
  • You have reported to the property manager that a neighbor has repeatedly hurled racial slurs against you, but no action has been taken against the offending neighbor.
  • The leasing agent tells you the manager doesn’t accept applicants who receive government assistance such as TANF or Section 8 vouchers.
  • A city council refuses to permit the development of a high-end assisted living facility for adults with Alzheimer’s disease based on the complaints of neighbors who don’t want to live next door to “those kinds of people.”
  • Code enforcement staff does not enforce occupancy standards equally throughout a county, doing more inspections for occupancy violations in neighborhoods with greater concentrations of people who are immigrants.

What to Do 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.

The Law Protects Renters if You File a Fair Housing Complaint

It is illegal for anyone to threaten you with eviction or to harass you for filing a fair housing complaint against them. We will not share your information without your permission with anyone.

Call us today to discuss your situation and learn more about your rights under fair housing law. We are a non-profit, non-governmental organization committed to affirmatively promoting fair housing and ensuring your right to live free from housing discrimination.

Our hotline services are free and confidential, and our staff will listen to your situation and determine how best to assist. Fair Housing Council of Oregon staff will discuss your options, including advice on how to resolve the issue through mediation. A simple phone call or letter from our enforcement team to the other party explaining their responsibility under federal or state law often settles the matter. If necessary, though, we can assist with filing a complaint with the appropriate government agency or bringing a lawsuit in federal or state court.

If your concern doesn’t involve illegal housing discrimination — for example, if it falls under landlord-tenant law — we can refer you to other appropriate services and organizations.

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