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BOX 1-1 Overview of the Fair Housing Act

The 1968 Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of five protected classes: race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. The act was amended in 1988 to expand the protected classes to include familial status and handicap. Individual jurisdictions may add to but may not subtract from the seven federally protected classes.

U.S. Code Title 42, Chapter 45, states the provisions of the Fair Housing Act. With the exception of exempted units, it is unlawful to engage in “discriminatory housing practices” in the sale or rental of a housing unit. The code outlines prohibited practices, which include refusing to sell or rent a unit and offering different terms or conditions on the basis of any protected class.

Section 3603 of the code allows for certain exemptions. One is for the lease or sale of a single-family house by the owner if that individual owns no more than three single-family houses. Additional provisions obtain, including that the house must be sold or rented without using a real estate agent or advertisement in violation of fair housing codes. Also exempted are units in living quarters occupied by the owner, provided no more than four families reside in the dwelling independently.

Section 3604 sets forth practices prohibited under the Fair Housing Act. Among these practices are the following:

  • Refusing to sell or rent after a bona fide offer has been made

  • Offering different terms, conditions, or privileges related to the unit

  • Indicating preferences, limitations, or discrimination in advertisements

  • Misrepresenting a unit's availability

  • Refusing to permit a person with a disability to make “reasonable modifications” to the unit at the person's own expense

One or more of the seven protected classes cannot be a factor in the outcome of the housing transaction.

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