Ask McEnearney: As a potential homebuyer or renter, what do I need to know about housing discrimination?

This week’s Q&A column, sponsored and written by McEnearney Associates Realtors®, the leading real estate firm in Alexandria, is a bit of a departure from our usual format. To learn more about this article and relevant Alexandria market news, contact us at 703-549-9292. You may also submit your questions to McEnearney Associates via email for response in future columns.

Question: As a potential homebuyer or renter, what do I need to know about housing discrimination?

Answer: Have you ever felt discriminated against or “othered” when trying to buy a home, rent an apartment, or even stay at a hotel? If so, you may have been a victim of a violation of the Fair Housing Act. But what qualifies as a violation and how can housing providers ensure that they are not making decisions to restrict housing of a potential resident or  customer based on a protected class?

Keith Barrett, Attorney and Founder of Vesta Settlements, recently held an overview for our McEnearney | Middleburg Real Estate | Atoka Properties Associates about Fair Housing, specifically ways in which discrimination is still prevalent in real estate and dwelling transactions and how agents should conduct their business to avoid violations and educate their clients about the  law. “Every single person is protected by the Fair Housing Act even though its genesis came from protecting against racial discrimination,” Barrett shared.

Background on The Act

The Fair Housing Act was enacted in 1968 and amended in 1988 to “prohibit discrimination by direct providers of housing, such as landlords and real estate companies as well as other entities, such as municipalities, banks or other lending institutions, and homeowners insurance companies whose discriminatory practices make housing unavailable to persons of specific protected classes including: race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status and disability.” The Civil Rights Act of 1866 can also provide relief although its scope is limited to racial discrimination.

The Fair Housing Act covers most housing and in very limited circumstances the Act exempts “owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, single-family houses sold or rented by the owner without the use of an agent, and housing operated by religious organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members.” In addition to homes, rental units, and land to be used for development, dwellings covered by Fair Housing may include nursing homes, hotels, dormitories, temporary migrant housing, and homeless shelters.

Federal laws provide the minimum level of protection while state and local governments can add further protections.

  • DC’s Fair Housing protections include age, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, family responsibilities, political affiliation, matriculation, source of income, place of residence or business, status as a victim of an intra-family offense, sealed eviction record, and homeless status.
  • Maryland’s additional protected classes are marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and source of income.
  • Virginia adds additional protections for elderliness (55+), source of funds, sexual orientation, gender identity, and military status.
  • West Virginia’s additional protections include ancestry, age (40+), and blindness.
  • Local jurisdictions within the D.C.-Metro area can include even more protections.

How The Act Combats Discrimination

“Overt discrimination is alive and well in the United States,” observed Barrett, citing several examples of cases of Fair Housing violations across a broad range of protected classes.

Barrett noted that following the law’s enactment most claims were about race, but currently, 53% of claims made were on the basis of disability, primarily in rentals. Many Fair Housing violations come from not making reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities, which can cover a wide range of physical, mental, and psychological conditions and may not often be outwardly visible.

At every level, Realtors® work with their clients and communities to educate housing providers and empower consumers to understand their roles and responsibilities in adhering to Fair Housing guidelines. Read more about those initiatives at the National Associations of Realtors® (NAR).

For guidance on Fair Housing Rights and Requirements, consult a McEnearney Associates Realtor® to help navigate your housing situations. We’re here to help!

If you would like a question answered in our weekly column or to set up an appointment with one of our Associates, please email: [email protected] or call 703-549-9292.

McEnearney Associates Realtors®, 109 S. Pitt Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. www.McEnearney.com Equal Housing Opportunity. #WeAreAlexandria