If you rent a home or apartment you have certain legal protections you should know about. Landlords and real estate companies have codes of conduct they must follow and if they violate your rights you can take them to court to seek justice.
Anti-Discrimination Laws in Housing: A Rundown
As a citizen you have a fundamental right to find a place to live. If you were there first, have the financial resources to afford a particular home or apartment and no glitches on your credit record the unit you want should be yours.
To guarantee equal access, federal law currently prohibits rental discrimination based on:
- Disability (mental or physical)
- National origin
- Family status (with or without children)
Open discrimination is clearly illegal. However, landlords aren’t allowed to skirt the law through more subtle forms of preferential treatment, either.
For example, they can’t charge different rents for similar units, evaluate anyone’s application more thoroughly than any others, require bigger deposits from some potential renters or favor or discourage any demographic groups from applying in their advertising. They also can’t lie about the availability of an apartment, harass you after you move in or evict you for non-payment of rent without a warning period that gives you a chance to make good your debt.
Here are a few more basic legal rights you are guaranteed as a renter:
- The right to know why your application was rejected (if it was). As long as you submit a request in writing they will have to provide an explanation—unless the rejection was based on an official credit report.
- The right to due process (warning notices, a chance to make late payments, notices of court action, etc.) if you are facing eviction.
- The right to live in a place that is suitable for habitation. If the unit you plan to reside in is physically damaged in a way that affects your safety, or is infested with mice, rats or insects, the landlord has a responsibility to clean it up or fix it up before you move in (at no extra cost to you).
- The right to protect your privacy. This means they, their representatives or any service technicians they hire cannot enter your home or apartment without prior notice and/or your permission.
Exceptions to the Rules
Government anti-discrimination rules are extensive but they are not universal. You may face some legally allowed restrictions if you apply to live in:
- Senior citizen housing.
- Owner-occupied buildings with four or fewer rental units.
- Single-family homes that are not handled by a real estate broker.
- Housing provided by religious or non-profit organizations for members or employees.
- Section 8 housing.
Landlords can adopt ‘no pet’ policies if they choose. However, they are not allowed to enforce these restrictions if the animals in question are seeing-eye dogs or provide other important services for people with mental or physical disabilities.
Unfortunately there is no general law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. But so far 22 states have passed laws outlawing the former type of discrimination and 19 of these also prohibit the latter. In addition, if you apply to live in federally-funded housing this type of discrimination is strictly forbidden.
Know Your Rights and Demand the Respect You Deserve
The best way to protect your rights is to know about them ahead of time, so you will be prepared to lodge a protest the minute they are violated. While it usually doesn’t go that far, the courts and the legal system are there to help you if an unscrupulous landlord or rental agency discriminates against you in any way, shape or form.
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