Tenants and Home Buyers: Do You Know Your Fair Housing Rights?

Inconsistent application of fair housing laws across the country means tenants and home buyers of color and from other protected classes must educate themselves and be their own advocates.

2 minute read

April 29, 2024, 11:00 AM PDT

By Mary Hammon @marykhammon

A Black couple holding contracts sits across the desk from a white mortgage lender.

Lumos sp / Adobe Stock

As a term, fair housing seems like a pretty straightforward thing: under federal (and often state) law, it is illegal to discriminate against someone based on their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or familial status when renting, selling, or financing housing. Done and dusted, right? Not exactly, says Justin Bower, director of community and environmental planning for the Houston-Galveston Area Council, who recently sat down with Laura Onyeneho of the Defender for a Q&A in honor of Fair Housing Month.

Just because there are laws on the books doesn’t mean landlords, homeowners, or lenders automatically know the law and stop discriminating. Instead, Bower says, implementation of the law largely falls on tenants and home buyers from protected classes to recognize and report when they are being discriminated against, which means the law is not always consistently enforced. And discriminatory actions in housing procurement aren’t always easy to spot. “Sometimes, discrimination happens in more hidden ways, like when landlords have rules that make it hard for certain groups of people to rent apartments or when they don’t help people with disabilities live comfortably,” Bower says.

The Defender article provides an easily digestible breakdown of red flags in the sale and rental of housing, as well as mortgage lending, for tenants and home buyers to be on alert for when finding their next place. Onyeneho also explains the reason behind fair housing laws and why fair housing is so important to the ongoing fight against systemic inequality, which deeply affects marginalized communities.

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