Equality is the main goal of the Fair Housing Act. It serves to grant everyone awareness of their rights to be fairly treated in housing. Whether one is purchasing real estate, selling or applying to rent, the law protects them. It brings to light discriminatory acts that should be avoided and are subjected to penalty. The Fair Housing law seeks fair treatment and highlights the rights of the protected classes.
This guide will give you an overview of the Fair Housing Act and will discuss how the regulations contained within it affect Virginia Fair Housing law and renters rights.
Behind the Fair Housing Act
Passed in 1968, the Fair Housing Act was designed to end acts of discrimination in housing. Its objective was to allow everyone to enjoy equal opportunities when securing housing. Fair Housing protected classes are:
- National origin
- Familial status (pregnant women and those with children under 18)
Issues on Housing Discrimination
Discrimination in housing takes many forms. Here are some examples of discrimination that can occur:
1. Selective marketing
• Only specific types of tenants or buyers are targeted for advertising. Others are excluded based on race, religion, color, familial status, disability, national origin or sex.
2. Mortgage lending
• When a borrower asks about loan availability but no information about loan types are offered.
• When a borrower asks about a loan and a different interest rate or loan term is given.
• When a borrower asks about a loan and different requirements are given that are not part of the standard list.
3. Home renting
• When a prospect inquires about the availability of housing and was informed that it’s already rented/ sold to someone else even if it’s still available for purchase or renting.
• The requirements and conditions change depending on the buyer or potential tenant.
• There are separate amenities or accommodations for different renters.
• Limiting access of amenities to specific groups or individuals under the protected classes.
Fair Housing Act Exemptions
When discussing the Fair Housing Act, there are certain exemptions made such as:
- Renting or selling a single-family homes without the aid of a broker
- Homes where owners are also occupying (limited to 4 units only)
- Private clubs or organizations exclusive to members only
Fair Housing Act in Virginia
In Virginia, the application of the Fair Housing Act extends to the following transactions:
• Rental – when an individual is applying to rent in a house or multi-unit property.
• Sales – when an individual is negotiating to buy a home.
• Advertising – when individuals, companies and media publishers advertise rental unit vacancies and home properties for sale.
• Financing – when an individual is applying for a mortgage.
• Insurance – when an individual is seeking to get homeowners or rental insurance.
Virginia Fair Housing Act Protected Categories
In order to avoid housing discrimination in Virginia, the list of protected classes extends far beyond the list of federal fair housing protected categories. The following classes are shielded against any form of discrimination in the state of Virginia:
- National origin
- Familial status
- Source of funds
- Sexual orientation
- Veteran status
- Gender identity
There shall be no differing standards in housing application for these classes from other individuals or groups. Specifically, you can’t ask for an additional requirement such as submitting a medical clearance for someone who has a disability if it’s not a standard requirement for other prospective renters or buyers as well. Doing so would be a violation under the Fair Housing Act.
Examples of Fair Housing Act Violations
• Based on race – closing a housing opportunity to an individual simply by virtue of race since you’ll only consider applicants who are either black, white, Asian or another specific race.
• Based on color – denying someone a housing opportunity due to skin complexion preference.
• Based on national origin – refusing to sell or rent a house to an individual on account of being Middle Eastern, Jewish, or other national origin.
• Based on religion – restricting the availability of house renting or buying to those who only practice a particular faith such as Christianity, Hinduism, or Buddhism.
• Based on age – limiting housing opportunity to those below 55 years old.
• Based on sex – favoring a particular gender only (either male or female) when it comes to housing opportunities.
• Based on familial status – denying a housing rental or purchase to an individual with a child below 18.
• Based on source of funds – restricting a housing opportunity only to those applicants with source of funds other than assistance, subsidy program or benefit.
• Based on disability – denying a housing rental or purchase to an individual with disability.
• Based on gender identity – not allowing an individual to rent or purchase housing due to gender-related identity, appearance, or character traits no matter the person’s biological sex.
• Based on sexual orientation – refusing to rent or sell housing to an individual due to an actual or perceived homosexuality, bisexuality, or heterosexuality.
• Based on veteran status – denying a housing opportunity to an individual serving in the active military, air service or navy, and or a veteran that has been discharged, unless it was dishonorable.
Classes Not Covered by the Fair Housing Act in Virginia
Apart from the classes mentioned above, there might be other groups that are not part of the protected classes. Landlords and property sellers would do well to check local ordinances. What might be excluded from federal and state laws might be part of the local ordinance. It’s best to look into the ordinances first prior to the creation of a fair housing policy.
Be sure to double-check Virginia rental laws to ensure that you are complying with Virginia renters’ rights. Being knowledgeable about renters’ rights and responsibilities, as well as your own as a landlord, can help you avoid serious legal consequences and draft successful lease agreements. Check out Virginia tenants' rights here.
- The complaint must be filed no later than a year after the alleged discriminatory incident happened.
- An investigator will be assigned by the Fair Housing Office to interview the complainant, the respondent and witnesses. Documents will also be evaluated.
- A professional from the Alternative Dispute Resolution Section will be tasked to instigate a conciliation process. If this fails, the investigation proceeds.
- After the investigation, the final report will be submitted to the Fair Housing Board. The Board will determine to accept or dismiss the conciliation agreement. If the Board sees reasonable cause then a civil suit will be brought to the court.
If you have more questions about Virginia Fair Housing law, feel free to reach out to a professional property management company or an attorney.