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What is equal-opportunity housing?

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Written by Brandi Marcene
Edited by Cassidy McCants
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Equal-opportunity housing means everyone has equal opportunity to be considered for the purchase or rental of property. Equal-opportunity housing initiatives and equal housing laws are a solution to unfair treatment of and discrimination against homebuyers and renters in the U.S.

When people feel welcomed and are treated fairly, they're more likely to take pride in their homes and communities, make deeper connections with their neighbors and invest in local businesses, which helps the community thrive.

What does equal-opportunity housing mean?

Equal-opportunity housing is the idea that all people should be given the same chances and rights when it comes to choosing housing. It means that every person has a right to fair judgment and treatment when it comes to housing and mortgage financing options.

Mortgage discrimination is strictly against the law."

Mortgage discrimination is strictly against the law. Equal housing law is enforced and administered by the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO). It's an office within the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD received enforcement responsibility by the Fair Housing Act, a law enacted in 1968.

An example of discrimination and unfair treatment is when a property manager refuses to rent a condo or apartment to a single woman but will rent it to a single man.

Equal-opportunity housing laws

The Civil Rights Act of 1968, which contains the Fair Housing Act, expanded on and was designed to follow the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The bill’s original and main objective was to extend federal protection to all civil rights workers in the U.S., but it was expanded to address racial discrimination in mortgage and housing. The legislation outlawed discrimination based on various factors, such as color, race, religion and sex.

Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 is commonly known as the Fair Housing Act.

These laws were created to make sure every neighborhood in the U.S. is a place of opportunity and to prevent segregation and discrimination based on somebody’s inclusion in protected classes. Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act is known as the Fair Housing Act, but the term is also used as a short description for the whole bill.

Fair housing legislation for apartments and other rentals prevents property managers and landlords from taking any discriminatory actions because of color, race, religion, disability, sex, familial status or nationality. The housing law applies to the sale, financing and rental of residential housing.

The Fair Housing Act covers apartments, mobile homes, condos, houses and vacant lots that will be used for housing. The law applies to property owners, rental managers, real estate agents, landlords, developers, banks, builders and individual owners who are renting or selling their property.

Civil Rights Act of 1866

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 confirmed that all individuals born in the U.S. are citizens (with exceptions). As a result, they have the same legal rights and protections regardless of race, color or previous servitude.

For real estate transactions, this means that the act prohibits all racial discrimination in the sale, lease, transfer or rental of property.

There are no exceptions. In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Company that the Civil Rights Act of 1866 prohibited the government or private parties, such as homeowners and property managers, from discriminating.

Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act is a comprehensive set of rules and regulations that governs housing and mortgage discrimination. If you have rented property as a tenant or a landlord, you’ve likely dealt with this act in one way or another.

The Fair Housing Act is designed to protect buyers and renters of property from discrimination by landlords, sellers or financial institutions. It makes it unlawful and illegal for those entities to refuse to sell, rent or provide funding for a dwelling based on factors such as race, color, religion and sex.

For example, in the rental realm, unfair treatment and discrimination may occur in various ways, such as:

  • Creating discriminatory rental advertisements
  • Refusing to rent to specific people, including minority communities
  • Falsely denying that housing is available for inspection, rental or sale
  • Lying about rental vacancies
  • Denying facilities or other benefits and amenities to specific people

The 1968 act prohibited housing discrimination and was expanded to include gender in 1974. The law was expanded once again in 1988 in order to protect families with children and people with disabilities.

The act’s intention and purpose are to create equal opportunity for housing, prevent the development of segregated housing communities and ensure everyone is treated fairly.

Equal Credit Opportunity Act

The ECOA keeps lenders from discriminating when approving loans or setting terms.

The ECOA prohibits credit discrimination based on race, religion, color, national origin, marital status, sex, age or whether you get income from any public assistance program. The act promotes the availability of credit and financing to all creditworthy applicants.

While creditors and lenders may ask you for most or some of this information in specific situations, they aren't allowed to use it as a reason to set the terms of your credit or deny you credit.

The ECOA was passed and amended in the 1970s, when financial discrimination against women was common. Organizations and groups that lobbied for the passing of ECOA claimed that U.S. mortgage lenders were more inclined to deny credit to single women compared with other applicants.

All parties who participate in the decision to grant credit or set the terms of that credit have to comply with the provisions of ECOA.

Who benefits from equal-opportunity housing?

Equal-opportunity housing in the U.S. prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin and disability. If you are a potential homebuyer seeking a home loan, you may not be discriminated against based on race, color, religion, age, gender or marital status.

Giving families the chance to live in high-opportunity neighborhoods can considerably improve residents' lives and well-being, especially children, by giving them unfettered access to high-quality schools, health care services, youth programs and positive and healthy peer-group influences.

Fair housing is also good for business, the economy and the community. Discrimination and unfair practices distort the marketplace and keep qualified homebuyers from accessing reasonable housing opportunities, which denies neighborhoods the benefits of integration.

When segregation and discrimination are addressed and fair housing laws are in place, they benefit everyone.

Who enforces fair housing laws?

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) leads the enforcement of fair housing laws in the U.S. Several state and local agencies help enforce equal housing and related laws.

The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity is the leading agency for enforcing federal fair housing laws.

FHEO enforces and implements fair housing, equal opportunity and related laws in several ways.

First, it investigates housing discrimination claims filed by individuals and families. If you think your housing rights have been violated, you have the right to file a complaint with FHEO. The office will investigate your claim and help the parties come to an agreement. If that’s not possible, FHEO may disclose findings from the investigation; if the law has been violated, HUD or the Department of Justice may take legal action. FHEO may also refer the complaint to another agency at the beginning of the process.

FHEO also funds state and local agencies that administer fair housing programs and initiatives, which are known as Fair Housing Assistance Program partners. In some cases, FHEO may refer a complaint to one of these partners.

Bottom line: Ensuring a fair shot at housing

Fair housing laws prevent discrimination in the sale or rental of housing. If you think you aren’t being given an equal housing opportunity or if you suspect mortgage discrimination based on your race, sex, religion or any other reason, you may need to file a complaint with your local or state housing authority or with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Keep in mind that it's illegal for anyone to retaliate against you for making a complaint.

ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. To learn more about the content on our site, visit our FAQ page.
  1. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, “Housing Discrimination Under the Fair Housing Act.” Accessed March 3, 2022.
  2. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, “Fair Housing Rights and Obligations.” Accessed March 3, 2022.
  3. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, “Fair Housing and Related Laws.” Accessed March 3, 2022.
  4. U.S. House of Representatives History, Art & Archives, “The Civil Rights Bill of 1866.” Accessed March 3, 2022.
  5. National Association of Realtors, “What Everyone Should Know About Equal Opportunity Housing.” Accessed March 3, 2022.
  6. U.S. Department of Justice, “The Fair Housing Act.” Accessed March 3, 2022.
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