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What is equal-opportunity housing?

What it is and why it benefits everyone

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Everyone deserves a place to call home, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion or disability. 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.

Key insights

  • Even with fair housing laws, housing segregation can lead to unequal access to resources and opportunities, making economic and social inequality worse.
  • Fair housing laws also protect families with children from discrimination, such as being denied housing because of the presence of children.
  • If you believe you have experienced housing discrimination, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or your state's fair housing agency.

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. 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.

One ConsumerAffairs reviewer from Minnesota felt they were being discriminated against due to their age. At 63 and financially able to buy a home, they felt the underwriters were making the process take a lot longer than it should have been.

“Once I said ‘Hey gang, does this sound like Age Discrimination to you?’, then things got A LOT better,” they said. “Magically, my mortgage was quickly approved and processed.”

» MORE: Best mortgage lenders for first-time buyers

Equal-opportunity housing laws

Equal-opportunity housing laws were created to make sure every neighborhood in the U.S. is a place of opportunity and to prevent segregation and discrimination.

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). HUD received enforcement responsibility by the Fair Housing Act, a law enacted in 1968.

Today, 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.

It 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.

Equal-opportunity housing laws for renters

In the rental realm, unfair treatment and discrimination may occur in 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 or families with children

What is the Equal Credit Opportunity Act?

The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) is a federal law to further protect individuals against financial discrimination. This law applies to all financial institutions, including credit card lenders, banks and loan originators.

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

The ECOA prevents lenders from making loan decisions based on your race, religion, color, national origin, marital status, sex, age or whether you get income from any public assistance program.

“In regards to women and mortgages, the ECOA mandated that women could establish credit in their own name, which allowed them to build credit for purchases — including homes,” said Bobbie Wasserman, the founder of Single Lady Estates, which supports women throughout the homeownership life cycle. “Prior to the ECOA, women could buy homes, but it would be dependent on a supportive employer or family member.”

» MORE: What credit score is needed to buy a house?

Who benefits from equal-opportunity housing?

Everyone benefits from equal-opportunity housing in the U.S. Potential homebuyers and renters cannot 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.

How is fair housing enforced?

FHEO leads the enforcement of fair housing laws in the U.S. 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 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.

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    What should I do if I believe I have experienced housing discrimination?

    If you believe you have experienced housing discrimination, it's important to document the details of the discrimination and try to get it in writing. You can file a complaint with HUD or your state's fair housing agency, or consult with a fair housing attorney to understand your options.

    What is not covered by the Fair Housing Act?

    Not all housing has to meet the Fair Housing Act. In limited cases, the following are exempt from the law:

    • Owner-occupied buildings with four or fewer units
    • Single-family homes sold or rented directly by the owner without a real estate agent
    • Housing operated by religious organizations or private clubs that restrict occupancy to members
    How do I identify real estate companies that support equal housing?

    To identify real estate companies that support equal housing, you can check for a Fair Housing certification. Additionally, a company’s website will display a statement about equal housing or have marketing materials and language that supports housing for all.

    Can a landlord refuse to rent to me because I have children?

    No, a landlord cannot refuse to rent to you because you have children under 18, unless the housing qualifies as housing for older persons. This is considered "familial status" discrimination, which is prohibited under the Fair Housing Act.

    Bottom line

    Everyone deserves the chance to buy their dream home or choose where they want to rent. 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 HUD. 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. Specific sources for this article include:
    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.
    7. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, “Housing Discrimination Under the Fair Housing Act.” Accessed May 3, 2023.
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