A cheeky, practical guide to fighting housing discrimination

Guest post by Rachel Ryan
Unicorn Go Wee Wee on Discrimination poster

Like I addressed in Part One, a rental application is a document used by landlords to screen and vet future tenants, to make sure they are reliable, trustworthy, and and not a future financial or legal liability. Although it’s illegal for landlords to deny housing based on whether a tenant falls within a protected class, it’s perfectly legal for a landlord to make sure future tenants aren’t at high-risk of absconding to the Bahamas to “have an old friend for dinner.” Rental Applications often require an application fee and provide a landlord an opportunity to run credit and background checks.

Although the federally mandated Fair Housing Act provides comprehensive framework curbing housing and rental discrimination, every renter should be aware of these five signs your rental application is discriminatory, and how you can combat it.

Whether it overt or subtle, when combatting landlord discrimination, there are a number of channels you can use to protect your fundamental rights from the get-go, remedy the situation, or penalize a landlord after the discriminatory act has been committed…

1. Compare and contrast

For starters, comparing your rental application with a fair, comprehensive, and non-discriminatory template can shed some light on whether you are being screened fairly. Doing so puts you in the driver’s seat and allows for you to even the playing field by learning what fair terms and questions look like. Experts suggest acquainting yourself with what a landlord is allowed to consider when reviewing your rental application; residential and eviction history, credit history, smoking preferences, and other personal information. By learning what landlords are legally allowed to ask you, you can help zone in on the questions that carry discriminatory undertones.

2. Walk away

Trust your instincts. If something seems fishy, it probably is. Even if there hasn’t been actual discrimination, if the whole process makes you feel uncomfortable in any way, take a step back and assess whether “this is the home for you.” Maybe the cost and stress of litigation right now isn’t worth it, and your time would be better spent on other priorities.

3. File a complaint

You have up to two years from the date of the discriminatory act to file a housing discrimination complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). By filing a complaint, you can help ensure that others aren’t discriminated against, and that just compensation is brought for any financial loss or emotional suffering you may have suffered. Before filing your complaint:

  • Nail down the specific timelines of the discrimination
  • Consider your reasons for filing
  • Collect supporting documents
  • Seek an objective, third-party opinion

Next time a potential landlord slips in what seems to be a harmless question in your application, think twice, document it, and seek an outside opinion, as it may be grounds for denying your future home. Should all signs point towards a denial of your fundamental right to fair housing, walk away, or consider filing a housing complaint with the HUD.

Anyone else faced housing discrimination? Did you fight it? What are your tips from that experience?

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