fair housing

Protected Classes

By law, you may not be denied or treated differently in the rental, sale, lending, or insuring of housing anywhere in Virginia on the basis of any of the following protected classes:

Race was one of the first four protected classes covered by the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Despite the protections offered by the Act, discrimination based on race persisted, and persists today. Methods of discrimination are numerous, but just a few examples of racist housing practices include:

  • Blockbusting: The practice of influencing owners to sell their properties at lower prices because of the fear that people of another race would move into the neighborhood. The influencers would then profit by selling the properties at a higher price, often to minorities. This practice is not so common today, but was at its height after World War II.
  • Redlining: The practice of denying services (loans, insurance, etc.) to residents based on the racial or ethnic composition of the neighborhood. In 1998 HOME won a landmark case against Nationwide for discriminatory redlining practices.
  • False Representation of Home Availability: A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) found that “the greatest share of discrimination for Hispanic and African American home seekers can still be attributed to being told units are unavailable when they are available to non-Hispanic whites and being shown and told about less units than a comparable non-minority.”

Color was one of the first four protected classes covered by the Fair Housing Act of 1968. There is overlap between color, race, and national origin, but generally this class refers to the visible color of one’s skin. Discrimination based on the color of someone’s skin can occur between people who are of the same race, as well as between people who are of different races or ethnicities. Some examples include:

  • Refusing to rent or sell to someone based on the color of their skin.
  • Refusing to negotiate for housing or making housing otherwise unavailable.
  • Providing different terms, rates, rules, conditions or fees based on skin color.
  • Imposing different or higher rates or fees to people of different skin color.
  • Steering or encouraging people of a certain skin color to live in a certain area.

Religion was one of the first four protected classes covered by the Fair Housing Act of 1968. People of all religions are protected, including people who have no religion. Some examples include:

  • Advertising and/or discouraging people of different religious beliefs from applying for housing.
  • Displaying religious symbols as a property manager. A landlord displaying a religious symbol implies that housing is for members of a certain religion.
  • Denying tenants the opportunity to display religious symbols.
  • Asking or telling someone to remove religious clothing such as a scarf, hijab, burka, keiffiyeh, kippah, or any other clothing or symbol related to their religious faith.
  • Harassing or failing to act when neighbors harass due to a person’s religion.
  • Grouping or requiring those of similar religious faiths to live in apartments in a certain area of the building.

National origin was one of the first four protected classes covered by the Fair Housing Act of 1968. National origin means where you are from or perceived to be from. This includes ancestry, ethnicity, birthplace, culture, and language. Regardless of citizenship status, no one can be denied their fair housing rights because they or their family members are from another country, they speak a different language, or have customs or accents that associate them with another national origin. Refugees, immigrants, and those currently obtaining citizenship are all protected by fair housing laws. Some examples include:

  • Refusing to rent to people who don’t speak English.
  • Requiring only people from other countries to show extra forms of identification to apply for housing.
  • Making offensive statements or calling someone derogatory names based on where they are from.
  • Refusing to allow someone to communicate with an interpreter or refusing to rent to a person who needs an interpreter.
  • Tell a person they are not allowed to cook cultural foods because the smell.
  • Making housing unavailable based on stereotypes about a person’s national origin.

In 1974 the Fair Housing Act was amended to include sex as a protected class. Although this form of discrimination most often impacts women, and particularly women with limited financial resources, men can also be victims of discrimination. Some examples of sexual discrimination include:

  • Advertising indicating a gender preference. For example, “Room to rent to a young woman…”
  • Quid pro quo, such as offering rent for sex.
  • The housing provider making frequent sexual remarks about a tenant or stares inappropriately.
  • A landlord refusing to act to stop sexual harassment between tenants.

Domestic Violence and Housing: People who are experiencing or have experienced domestic violence are protected by the Fair Housing Act, as well as the Violence Against Women Act and the Virginia Residential Landlord Tenant Act.

Unfortunately, sexual orientation and gender identity are not protected by the fair housing act, but HOME firmly believes that they should be, and is pushing to extend protections to those groups. We hope that you will support us in our efforts.

In 1988 the Fair Housing Act was amended to include disability as a protected class. Disability is defined as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Unlawful policies and practices, and design and construction errors are the most common fair housing problems for persons with disabilities. Under the Fair Housing Act, persons with disabilities are allowed to request reasonable accommodations(changes to rules, policies, and procedures) and reasonable modifications(physical changes) to allow full enjoyment of a dwelling. Examples of discrimination include:

  • Refusing to allow or charging a “pet fee” to allow a service animal or an emotional support animal onto the property.
  • Requiring an extra deposit for a wheelchair or motorized scooter in case the device causes damage to the unit.
  • Refusing to allow a tenant to widen their existing doorway to accommodate their wheelchair.
  • Refusing to grant an accommodation for a tenant to break their lease without penalty if they can no longer live alone.
  • Requiring a tenant pay extra for an accessible parking space

In 1988 the Fair Housing Act was amended to include familial status as a protected class. Familial status covers anyone who has legal custody of children under age 18. This includes biological parents, stepparents, foster parents, adopted parents, grandparents, or other relatives or guardians. It applies to anyone expecting children, such as those who are pregnant or individuals in the process of adopting a child. Examples of discrimination based on familial status include:

  • Advertisements that discourage families with children, such as “Single Occupancy,” or “Adults Only”
  • Limiting families to particular areas or units, such as a ground floor unit.
  • Unreasonable occupancy standards, such as separate rooms for children, or separate rooms for parent and child. 50 square feet per person is the minimum requirement for occupancy in Virginia.
  • Charging additional fees per child, or a higher security deposits for teenagers./li>
  • Requiring that children always be at school or under adult supervision when the parent/guardian is at work.
  • Asking the parent how they intend to pay rent and provide for their children.

The only exception to the familial status protection applies to communities for the elderly. Senior communities may legally turn away families with children. However, the property has to be for the explicit purpose of serving the elderly and a minimum of 80% of the units must be occupied by persons 55 of age and older.

For the purposes of law, elderliness refers to persons age 55 or older. Elderliness is not a protected class under federal fair housing laws, however, Virginia fair housing law extends protections to those age 55 and up. It is unlawful to refuse to sell, rent, or negotiate housing based on elderliness. Other examples include:

  • Advertising that indicates an age preference such as “Room for rent for young college student.”
  • Predatory lending practices that target the elderly, like scams that strip the equity from a home.
  • Statements that discourage a person from renting because of their age such as “Wouldn’t you be better off in a senior community?”


Equal housing opportunity logo

Sexual orientation, Gender Identity and Source of Income are not protected by federal or Virginia law, but we are fighting to change that.


What is Fair Housing?

Fair Housing is the idea that all people have the right to live where they choose, free from discrimination. Fair housing is about embracing diversity and striving to create stronger communities that are welcoming and inclusive. Fair housing is not about giving certain people special rights, it’s about making sure everyone has equal rights and equal access to housing.

In 1968, the Fair Housing Act was passed to protect people from discrimination in housing-related transactions, such as renting an apartment, obtaining a mortgage, or purchasing homeowner’s insurance. Under Virginia and federal laws, it’s illegal to discriminate against someone based on their status as a member of the following protected classes: race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, disability, or, in Virginia, those aged 55 and up. Everyone belongs to one or more protected classes, so everyone should be protected equally by fair housing laws.

The requirements under the fair housing laws apply to almost all housing providers, including property managers, owners, landlords, real estate agents, banks, savings institutions, credit unions, insurance companies, mortgage lenders, and appraisers.


What is Discrimination?

Discrimination is differential treatment of a person or a group of people based on a certain characteristic.

Discrimination can have many faces, from outright hateful to polite but ignorant. It also isn’t always one person acting against another, it can also exist in traditions, beliefs, policies, ideas, practices, laws, and institutions. Someone might act discriminatory even if it was not their intention. No matter how it happens, the result is that people belonging to certain groups are denied access to opportunities.

Most housing discrimination has come a long way from neighborhood signs demanding “white tenants only.” Today, it is often subtle, sometimes polite, and can leave people confused as to whether their rights were violated. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that more than two million instances of housing discrimination occur each year. Unfortunately, fewer than one percent of those instances are reported. It is important to learn what discrimination can look like in different situations to protect your rights, and the rights of others.

Discrimination can happen during the search for housing, such as applying for an apartment or buying a home. The result is that a person is excluded from living where they choose to and must look in a less desired location. This involves:

  • Direct refusal or harassment
  • False representation of home availability
  • Additional application requirements that disqualify or target a specific group of people
  • Unfair financing or loan qualifications
  • Steering, or restrictions an individual’s choice of housing

Discrimination can also occur in an already established living arrangement, such as in an apartment complex. The result is that a person may no longer feel welcome or safe and may feel the need to move to avoid emotional or physical distress. This involves:

  • Harassment, intimidation, or coercion
  • Differential treatment of tenants
  • Unfair or unequal terms and conditions
  • Failure to provide equal access to services and facilities
  • Neglecting maintenance or accommodations

Disparate impact is when practices or policies that are not made with the intention to discriminate are found to cause housing discrimination. For example – blanket bans on everyone with any criminal history has a disparate impact on African-American men because of the disproportionate incarceration rates between minorities and non-minorities.


How We Can Help

You don’t have to face discrimination alone. If you have been discriminated against in housing, or if you are unsure if you have, we can help. Submit a form to our fair housing team and one of our intake coordinators will contact you to discuss the details. It is important that you include as much information as possible, so we can help determine the best course of action.

If the situation calls for it, there are several ways we can help. We can help write fair housing complaints to file with the Virginia Fair Housing Office, HUD, or other local enforcement agency. We can assist in writing reasonable accommodations or reasonable modifications for people with disabilities. If a complaint is filed, we can help advocate during the filing, the investigative process, or the conciliation process. How much we can do is entirely dependent on the individual situation.

HOME does not have attorneys on staff. For legal advice, please consult an attorney.

Even if you are not the direct victim of discrimination, we still want to hear about it! If you have heard of discriminatory practices occurring, contact us with as much information as possible so we can investigate.


How You Can Help

HOME relies on the work of dependable, social conscious testers to uncover instances of housing discrimination. If you are interested in helping us uphold fair housing in your community, please consider becoming one of HOME’s testers.

Think you may have been discriminated against?