Fair Housing Act (FHA) of 1968 Featured Image

Table of Contents

I. Introduction

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) of 1968 is a landmark civil rights law in the United States that prohibits discrimination in housing. It protects people from being denied the sale, rental, or financing of a dwelling based on race, religion, national origin, sex, disability, or familial Status. This means landlords, sellers, and lenders cannot treat you differently or refuse your business because of these factors.

Let’s discuss the Fair Housing Act (FHA) of 1968 in detail:


II. History, Birth, and Significance of FHA

Fair Housing Act (FHA) of 1968 1
Fair Housing Act (FHA) of 1968

A. Historical Context of Housing Discrimination in the United States

The history of the United States is deeply intertwined with housing discrimination. From the earliest days of colonization, racial and ethnic minorities faced barriers to acquiring decent and safe housing. These barriers took many forms, including:

  1. Racial Covenants: These were clauses inserted into deeds or property agreements that prohibited the sale or rental of property to people of certain races. These covenants were widespread throughout the 20th century, particularly in suburban neighborhoods.
  2. Redlining: This discriminatory practice involved denying mortgages or insurance to residents of certain neighborhoods, often based on racial demographics. This practice effectively prevented minority families from purchasing homes in desirable areas and perpetuated racial segregation.
  3. Steering: This directs potential homebuyers or renters to certain neighborhoods based on race or ethnicity. This often resulted in minority families being steered towards less desirable neighborhoods with lower property values and higher crime rates.
  4. Zoning Laws: Zoning laws can be used to discriminate by restricting the construction of multi-family housing in certain areas. This can limit the availability of affordable housing for low-income families, who are disproportionately people of color.

The consequences of housing discrimination are far-reaching. It contributes to racial and economic segregation, limits access to quality education and employment opportunities, and perpetuates cycles of poverty.

B. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 and the Birth of the Fair Housing Act

11th April 1968: The Fair Housing Act of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 signed by President Johnson

The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s brought national attention to the issue of housing discrimination. Activists like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. highlighted the connection between housing discrimination and other forms of racial injustice. In 1966, after years of struggle, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) was included as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

The passage of the FHA was a watershed moment in the fight for fair housing. However, it came at a heavy price. Just days before the bill was signed into law, Dr. King was assassinated. President Lyndon B. Johnson viewed the FHA as a fitting tribute to Dr. King’s legacy and lifelong commitment to racial equality.

C. Significance of the FHA: Addressing a National Crisis

The FHA was a landmark piece of legislation that aimed to dismantle the system of housing discrimination that had plagued the United States for centuries. It sent a clear message that housing was a right, not a privilege, and that discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin would no longer be tolerated. The FHA has profoundly impacted American society, helping to create a more just and equitable housing market.

Decades of discriminatory practices like racial covenants and redlining created a segregated housing market in the U.S. The Civil Rights Movement, led by figures like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., exposed these injustices. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) of 1968, enacted as part of the Civil Rights Act, aimed to dismantle this system. Though organizations like the NAACP played a crucial role in its passage, the FHA initially lacked protections for families with children and people with disabilities. This gap was addressed by the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1974, which expanded the FHA’s reach to include these groups.

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III. Understanding the FHA Framework

Fair Housing Act (FHA) of 1968 2
The FHA makes it illegal to advertise housing in a way that discourages applications from people of certain protected classes.

A. Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968: The Legal Foundation

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) finds its legal basis in Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. This title prohibits discrimination in housing based on specific protected classes. Title VIII is enforced by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and allows individuals to file complaints if they believe they have been discriminated against.

B. Protected Classes under the FHA

The FHA protects individuals from discrimination based on the following characteristics:

  1. Race and Color: This includes skin color, ethnicity, or ancestry discrimination.
  2. Religion: The FHA protects individuals from discrimination based on religious beliefs or practices.
  3. National Origin: This prohibits discrimination based on a person’s country of origin or perceived nationality.
  4. Sex: The FHA protects individuals from discrimination based on their gender. This includes discrimination based on pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

It’s important to note that these protections were added over time:

  1. Familial Status (as amended in 1974): This amendment protects families with children from discrimination in housing. This includes families with young children, single parents, and pregnant women.
  2. Disability (as amended in 1988): This amendment protects people with disabilities from discrimination in housing. This includes individuals with physical, mental, or sensory impairments.

C. Prohibited Activities under the FHA

An Overview of the Fair Housing Act

The FHA prohibits a wide range of discriminatory activities in housing-related transactions. These include:

  1. Refusal to Sell, Rent, or Negotiate: Landlords, sellers, and real estate agents cannot refuse to sell, rent, or negotiate with someone based on their protected class.
  2. Discriminatory Terms, Conditions, or Privileges: This includes setting different prices, requiring different security deposits, or offering different amenities based on a person’s protected class.
  3. Advertising and Marketing Practices: It’s illegal to advertise housing in a way that discourages people from applying based on their protected class. This includes using discriminatory language or imagery in advertisements.
  4. Steering and Redlining: Steering involves directing potential renters or buyers to certain neighborhoods based on their protected class. Redlining denies mortgages or insurance to residents of certain neighborhoods, often based on racial demographics.

Understanding these core concepts of the FHA’s legal framework and protected classes lays the groundwork for exploring the specific situations where the act applies.

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IV. The Scope of the FHA

Fair Housing Act (FHA) of 1968 3
Steering, the practice of directing potential renters or buyers towards certain neighborhoods based on their protected class, is a violation of the Fair Housing Act.

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) protects individuals in various housing-related transactions. Let’s delve into the specific areas covered by the act and explore some exemptions.

A. Protected Housing Transactions

The FHA applies to a wide variety of housing situations, ensuring fair treatment across the spectrum:

  1. Sale and Rental of Housing: This is the most common area where the FHA comes into play. It protects individuals from discrimination when buying, renting, or seeking to rent a dwelling, including apartments, single-family homes, condominiums, and mobile homes.
  2. Financing of Housing: The FHA prohibits discrimination in obtaining financing for housing, such as mortgages, home equity loans, and refinancing. This ensures people from protected classes have equal access to financial products needed to purchase a home.
  3. Housing-Related Services (e.g., Appraisals, Insurance): The FHA protects situations beyond the initial sale or rental. Individuals are protected from discrimination in housing-related services, such as appraisals, homeowners insurance, and property inspections.

B. Exemptions under the FHA

It’s important to note that the FHA includes some limited exemptions:

  1. Single-Family Homes (limited exemption): The sale or rental of a single-family home by the owner, without the use of an agent and not as part of a pattern or practice of discrimination, is exempt. However, advertising of such rentals or sales cannot be discriminatory.
  2. Owner-Occupied Housing with No More Than Four Units: If an owner occupies one of the four units in a property, they can discriminate when selecting tenants for the remaining units. However, this exemption does not apply if the owner uses an agent to advertise or rent the units.
  3. Rooms or Units in a Religious Organization: Religious organizations are exempt from the FHA when renting housing units located within their buildings and used for religious purposes.

Understanding these exemptions helps navigate situations where the FHA may not apply. It’s crucial to remember that even with these exemptions, the advertising of any housing opportunity cannot be discriminatory.

Also, read:


V. Enforcement Mechanisms of the FHA

Fair Housing Act (FHA) of 1968 4
Landlords cannot set different terms, conditions, or privileges for renting or selling a dwelling based on a person’s protected class under the FHA.

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) has teeth. Let’s explore the key players and processes involved in enforcing fair housing rights.

A. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is the federal agency responsible for enforcing the Fair Housing Act. HUD has a dedicated Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) division that investigates housing discrimination complaints and works to secure remedies for victims.

B. Filing a Fair Housing Complaint with HUD

Individuals who believe they have been discriminated against in housing can file a complaint with HUD. Complaints can be filed online, by mail, by phone, or in person at a local HUD office. The complaint should detail the alleged discriminatory actions, including dates, locations, and any witnesses.

C. Investigative Process and Conciliation

Once a complaint is filed, HUD initiates an investigation. This may involve gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, and reviewing documents. They will attempt conciliation if HUD finds reasonable cause to believe discrimination occurred. This involves facilitating communication between the complainant and the respondent (the person or entity accused of discrimination) to reach a mutually agreeable settlement.

D. Administrative Hearing Process

If conciliation fails, HUD may refer the case to an administrative law judge for a hearing. The judge will hear evidence from both sides and issue a ruling. If the judge finds discrimination, they can order remedies such as monetary damages, rental or housing practice changes, or allowing the complainant to rent or purchase the housing they were denied.

E. Judicial Enforcement through Federal Courts

Individuals also have the option to bypass HUD and file a lawsuit in federal court. This can be more complex and lengthy, but it allows for potentially higher damage awards. Additionally, the Department of Justice (DOJ) can file lawsuits in federal court to address patterns or practices of discrimination or cases of significant public importance.

Understanding these enforcement mechanisms empowers individuals to fight against housing discrimination and seek justice.

Also, read:


VI. Remedies Available under the FHA

Fair Housing Act (FHA) of 1968 5
Denying financing for housing, such as mortgages or home equity loans, based on a protected class is prohibited by the Fair Housing Act.

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) offers a range of remedies for individuals who have been victims of housing discrimination. These remedies aim to compensate victims for their losses, deter future discriminatory practices, and ensure fair housing opportunities.

A. Compensatory Damages: Recovering Financial Losses

Compensatory damages are intended to make the victim whole for the financial losses they suffered due to discrimination. This can include:

  • Out-of-pocket expenses incurred due to the discrimination include additional moving costs, rent payments for temporary housing, or application fees.
  • Lost wages or income opportunities if the discrimination prevented the victim from obtaining desired housing.
  • Emotional distress caused by the discriminatory experience.

B. Punitive Damages: Deterring Future Discrimination

In addition to compensatory damages, courts may award punitive damages to punish the perpetrator for egregious or intentional discrimination. These awards are intended to deter future discriminatory practices and message that such behavior will not be tolerated.

C. Injunctive Relief: Stopping Discriminatory Practices

Injunctive relief is a court order prohibiting the perpetrator from continuing discriminatory practices. This can be crucial in preventing further harm to the victim and others. For example, a court may order a landlord to rent a specific unit to the victim or to change their discriminatory advertising practices.

D. Civil Penalties: Punishing Violators

Civil penalties can be imposed on violators in cases brought by HUD or the Department of Justice (DOJ). These penalties are paid to the government and not awarded directly to the victim. They serve as a deterrent to future violations of the FHA.

The specific remedies awarded in a fair housing case will depend on the facts and circumstances of the case. It’s important to consult an attorney specializing in fair housing law to understand your rights and potential remedies.

Also, read:


VII. The Impact of the FHA

Fair Housing Act (FHA) of 1968 6
The FHA protects individuals from discrimination in housing-related services such as appraisals, homeowners insurance, and property inspections.

A. Increase in Housing Opportunities for Protected Classes

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) has significantly impacted the American housing landscape. Here are some key achievements:

  1. Greater Access to Housing: The FHA has undoubtedly expanded housing opportunities for protected classes. People of color, religious minorities, families with children, and individuals with disabilities have all seen a marked increase in their ability to secure desirable housing options.
  2. Reduced Overt Discrimination: Blatant discriminatory practices like refusing to rent to someone based on their race or religion are far less common today due to the threat of legal action under the FHA.
  3. Increased Diversity in Neighborhoods: The FHA has helped to break down racial barriers in housing, leading to a more integrated society in some areas.

B. Challenges and Ongoing Issues in Fair Housing

Despite the progress, achieving truly fair housing remains a work in progress. Here are some ongoing challenges:

  1. Disparate Impact Discrimination: This occurs when a seemingly neutral policy or practice has a discriminatory effect on protected classes. For example, a requirement for a high-income threshold to rent an apartment may disproportionately exclude low-income families, which often include minorities. Proving disparate impact discrimination can be complex.
  2. Proving Intentional Discrimination: The FHA often requires proving intentional discrimination on the part of the housing provider. This can be not easy, as discriminatory intent can be subtle or hidden.
  3. Housing Segregation: Residential segregation remains a persistent issue. Racial and economic disparities in housing persist, often due to factors like historical redlining practices and limited affordable housing options in desirable neighborhoods.

These challenges highlight the need for continued vigilance and efforts to strengthen fair housing enforcement.

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VIII. The Fair Housing Act Amendments

Fair Housing Act (FHA) of 1968 7
It’s illegal for religious organizations to discriminate in renting housing units within their buildings if those units are used for non-religious purposes. (Note: This is a limited exemption)

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) has been expanded over time to offer broader protections. Here’s a look at two key amendments:

  • Familial Status (1974): Before 1974, families with children faced discrimination in housing. The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1974 addressed this by including “familial status” as a protected class under the FHA. This prohibits landlords and providers from denying housing or setting different terms based on factors like having children, pregnancy, or being a single parent.
  • Disability (1988): People with disabilities were not initially protected under the FHA. The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 rectified this by adding “disability” as a protected class. This ensures equal access to housing for individuals with physical, mental, or sensory impairments. Landlords are responsible for providing reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities, and new housing construction must meet accessibility standards.

Also, read:


IX. The Fair Housing Act and State and Local Laws

Fair Housing Act (FHA) of 1968 8
The Fair Housing Act offers limited exemptions for single-family home sales by owner-occupants and owner-occupied housing with no more than four units, as long as the owner does not discriminate in advertising or tenant selection.

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) establishes a baseline for fair housing protections across the United States. However, it’s important to recognize the interplay between federal and state/local fair housing laws.

A. Relationship Between Federal and State Fair Housing Laws

Federal Supremacy: The FHA preempts state or local laws offering weaker protections against housing discrimination. This ensures a consistent national standard for fair housing.

Supplementing the FHA: State and local fair housing laws can go beyond the FHA by offering additional protections for tenants and homebuyers.

B. Stronger Protections Offered by State and Local Laws

Here’s how state and local laws can expand on the FHA:

  1. Expanding Protected Classes: Some states and localities have fair housing laws that protect additional classes not covered by the FHA, such as sexual orientation, gender identity, or source of income (e.g., vouchers).
  2. Broader Remedies: State and local laws may offer more comprehensive remedies for victims of discrimination, including higher damage awards or additional enforcement mechanisms.

Because state and local laws can add layers of protection, consulting with fair housing organizations or legal professionals in your area is crucial. They can provide guidance on the specific fair housing protections available under federal, state, and local laws where you reside. This can be particularly helpful when navigating a potential fair housing case.

Also, read:


X. Fair Housing Organizations and Resources

Fair Housing Act (FHA) of 1968 9
The FHA does not apply to rooms or units in a religious organization that are located within their buildings and are used for religious purposes.

The fight for fair housing extends beyond legal statutes. Here, we explore the role of fair housing organizations and resources available to individuals seeking to understand and enforce their rights.

A. Role of Fair Housing Organizations in Advocacy and Enforcement

Fair housing organizations (FHOs) play a vital role in promoting fair housing practices and supporting individuals who experience discrimination. These organizations often work on multiple fronts:

  1. Community Education and Outreach: FHOs raise awareness about fair housing rights and educate communities about discriminatory practices. They may provide workshops, distribute informational materials, and conduct community outreach programs.
  2. Testing and Investigations: Some FHOs conduct fair housing testing, which involves sending testers of different protected classes to inquire about housing opportunities. This can help uncover discriminatory practices by landlords or real estate agents.
  3. Casework and Legal Assistance: FHOs may offer legal assistance or referrals to attorneys specializing in fair housing law. They can also help individuals file complaints with HUD or local fair housing agencies.
  4. Policy Advocacy: FHOs engage in advocacy efforts to strengthen fair housing laws and local, state, and federal policies.

B. Important Resources for Understanding and Enforcing Fair Housing Rights:

Here are some key resources to empower individuals seeking fair housing:

  1. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD): The Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) division of HUD is the primary federal agency responsible for enforcing the FHA. They offer a wealth of information on fair housing rights, the complaint process, and resources for finding local fair housing assistance: https://www.hud.gov/faqs/fairhousing
  2. National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA): The NFHA is a leading national organization advocating for fair housing rights. They provide information on fair housing laws, resources for finding local fair housing organizations, and publications on fair housing issues: https://nationalfairhousing.org/
  3. Local Fair Housing Organizations: Many localities have local FHOs that offer specific expertise and support in your area. You can find local FHOs through HUD or national fair housing organizations.

Remember, knowledge is power. By understanding your rights and the available resources, you can act against housing discrimination and help create a more just and equitable housing market.


XI. The Future of Fair Housing

The fight for fair housing is ongoing. While the FHA has made significant strides, challenges like disparate impact discrimination and housing segregation persist.

Public education and awareness campaigns are crucial to combat subtle discrimination and empower individuals to recognize and report violations. Additionally, ongoing efforts are needed to address historical segregation patterns and ensure access to affordable housing in desirable neighborhoods for all.

Legislative proposals and policy changes can further strengthen fair housing protections. This may involve expanding protected classes under the FHA, increasing enforcement resources, and exploring ways to address discriminatory practices embedded in seemingly neutral policies. By staying vigilant and advocating for continued progress, we can move closer to the ideal of a truly fair housing market in the United States.


XII. Citations

  1. Fair Housing Act | US Civil Rights Law, 1968. (2024, April 4). Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Fair-Housing-Act
  2. History of Fair Housing – HUD. (n.d.). HUD.gov / U.S. Department of Housing And Urban Development (HUD). https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/aboutfheo/history#:~:text=The%201968%20Act%20expanded%20on,Housing%20Act%20(of%201968).

Junaid Khan

Junaid Khan is an expert on harassment laws since 2009. He is a passionate advocate for victims of harassment and works to educate the public about harassment laws and prevention. He is also a sought-after speaker on human resource management, relationships, parenting, and the importance of respecting others.

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