The Law That Protects People From Housing Discrimination

The Fair Housing Act (FHA)—codified at 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601-3619—is a federal law that prevents housing discrimination against any person because of:

  • Race or color

  • National origin

  • Religion,

  • Sex,

  • Familial status (including children under the age of 18 living with parents or legal custodians; pregnant women and people securing custody of children under 18),

  • Disability.

Are Homeowners Associations (HOAs) Subject To This Law?

Yes. The FHA applies to all "corporations, associations and others involved in the provision of housing and residential lending, including property owners, housing managers, homeowners and condominium associations, lenders, real estate agents, and brokerage services.” You can follow this link to read more about this subject. 

What is Considered Discrimination?

It is against the law to discriminate against a person based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, or national origin in the sale or rental of housing. In particular, under 42 U.S. Code § 3604, the following actions are prohibited:

  • To refuse to sell or rent after the making of a bona fide offer, or to refuse to negotiate for the sale or rental of, or otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.

  • To discriminate against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection therewith, because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.

  • To make, print, or publish, or cause to be made, printed, or published any notice, statement, or advertisement, with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin, or an intention to make any such preference, limitation, or discrimination.

  • To represent to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, handicapfamilial status, or national origin that any dwelling is not available for inspection, sale, or rental when such dwelling is in fact so available.

  • For profit, to induce or attempt to induce any person to sell or rent any dwelling by representations regarding the entry or prospective entry into the neighborhood of a person or persons of a particular race, color, religion, sex, handicapfamilial status, or national origin. 

  • To deny any person access to or membership or participation in any multiple-listing service, real estate brokers' organization or other service, organization, or facility relating to the business of selling or renting dwellings, or to discriminate against him in the terms or conditions of such access, membership, or participation, on account of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.  Section  3606

Additional Protections For Members With A Disability

Under Section 804 of the FHA and the Americans with Disabilities Act, a homeowners association is required to permit reasonable accommodations/modifications for a person with a disability to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. The Department of Justice provides the following definitions:

  1. Reasonable accommodation - A change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service.

  2. Reasonable modification - Structural changes to interiors and exteriors of dwellings and to common and public use areas.

What is Considered A Disability?

Federal laws define a person with disability as a person who has:

  • A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual;

  • A record of such an impairment; or

  • Being regarded as having such an impairment.

The law does not protect a person who is a direct threat to the health or safety of others or who currently uses illicit substances or illegal drugs. Additionally, because the FHA does not protect people that pose a “direct threat” to other residents, juvenile and sex offenders are exceptions to the prohibition.

How Long Do I Have To File A Discrimination Complaint?

Under 42 U.S.C. § 3610(a), an "aggrieved person may, not later than one year after an alleged discriminatory housing practice has occurred or terminated, file a complaint with the Secretary alleging such discriminatory housing practice."

Filing A Complaint If Your Rights Have Been Violated

If you are the victim of prohibited discrimination, you may file a complaint with HUD, at no cost, three different ways.

  1. Call the HUD case managers toll-free (800) 669-9777 or TTY (800) 927-9275. You can also follow this link for a HUD directory.

  2. You can mail your complaint/letter to:

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity
451 7th Street, S.W., Room 5204
Washington, DC 20410-2000
Telephone 1-800-669-9777
Fax (202) 708-1425 * TTY 1-800-927-9275

    3. You may file a complaint online by following the link here.

Right To File A Private Civil Lawsuit

A person has the right to file a separate private civil lawsuit against a homeowners association in the Federal District Court. The lawsuit must be filed within two (2) years of the most recent date of the alleged discriminatory action at the aggrieved person's expense. However, in the event that the aggrieved person cannot afford an attorney, the Court may appoint one.

This lawsuit can be filed, in addition to the HUD complaint, unless:

  1. A HUD Conciliation Agreement is signed to resolve the HUD complaint; or

  2. A HUD Administrative Law Judge has commenced an Administrative Hearing for the complaint.

Additional Information

The information provided is designed to give HOA members basic information about the Fair Housing Act. We encourage HOA members to visit to obtain detailed information about this subject.