What to Do if You are Treated Unfairly by a Landlord

As a tenant, you have legal rights that protect you from being treated unfairly by a landlord. If you suspect that you are being treated unfairly due to a personal issue - maybe the landlord doesn't care for the bumper sticker on your car. Maybe he or she saw you with a rival football team's shirt on. Maybe the two of you just don't get along on a personal level. If this is the case, it may be best to try and work things out. Perhaps a peace offering would be your best bet. Home-baked cookies work wonders for personal issue disputes.

However, if you are being treated unfairly because of your gender, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, family status, or handicap, it is a much more serious situation. This is discrimination, and it is illegal. You should not believe for a moment that you have to endure discrimination to have a safe, nice apartment or housing unit.

The Fair Housing Act and your rights as a tenant

The Fair Housing Act, created and enforced by The Department of Housing and Urban Development, protects tenants from unfair treatment. The laws protecting your rights to equal housing are Federal laws, meaning landlords who do not comply with The Fair Housing Act will usually find themselves in a heap of trouble.

The Fair Housing Act states that everyone is eligible for equal housing opportunities. Under the Act, landlords cannot legally:

  • Refuse to rent or sell property to a person if the property is for lease or purchase.
  • Refuse to negotiate for housing if it is available.
  • Set different terms or conditions for rental properties or properties for purchase.
  • Provide different housing services or facilities to tenants.
  • Purposely deny that a rental unit or property for purchase is available for rent, inspection, or purchase.
  • Deny certain tenants access to a facility that is available to the apartment community (such as a pool, community area, tennis courts, etc.)
  • Persuade the tenants to move or relocate to another area of the apartment complex or sell their property.

The Fair Housing Act protects everyone from discrimination based on ethnicity and national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or handicap, and their familial status. The term familial status can include pregnant women, single parents, and any person who is a legal guardian or who has legal custody of a child under the age of 18. A "disability" can include hearing or vision impairment, AIDS, cancer, or a chronic mental illness.

Certain accessibility standards must be met to assist those who need it. Handicapped parking spots and ground level units should be provided for those who need them due to a disability. Should a person who is visually or hearing impaired have a service dog, the dog must be allowed to live in their apartment or housing unit regardless of any restrictive pet policies. If a landlord does not make parking and other accessibility updates available for those who need it, they are in direct violation of The Fair Housing Act.

What is not covered by The Fair Housing Act?

Some rules of The Fair Housing Act do not help people in certain instances.

Some senior communities do not allow people who are under 55 years of age to live in housing units within the community. These housing communities for seniors are recognized by The Department of Housing and Urban Development, and are exclusive to older persons who need assistance. The familial status rules usually do not apply to these areas.

If a tenant has a violent history and may be considered a threat to the safety of others, a landlord does not have to provide them with a housing unit. This includes severely mentally handicapped people.

Should a tenant engage in illegal activities, such as using illegal substances or manufacture drugs in their apartment, they can be evicted no matter what their background. The same goes for paying rent and subsequent utilities.

What to do if you have been treated unfairly by a landlord

If you have determined that the basis of your unfair treatment goes beyond a petty personal issue, you have the legal right to file a complaint with The Department of Housing and Urban Development, more commonly known as the HUD.

Begin by documenting the events that have lead you to believe that your rights have been violated. Be as precise as possible, including comments, dates, and circumstances.

Then, you may call or write to your local HUD office. There are TTY phone lines available for the hearing impaired. Be prepared to tell the HUD:

  • Your name and address
  • The name and address of the person who the complaint is against
  • The name and address of the housing development in question
  • The date(s) of the violation(s)
  • A short description of the event(s) that you believe violated your equal rights as a tenant.

Contact information for The Department of Housing and Urban Development are available at the HUD's web site: www.hud.gov. Local HUD office contact telephone numbers should be listed in your local telephone book or by calling directory assistance.

If you cannot locate a local address or telephone number, you can contact the main HUD office at:

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity
451 7th Street S.W., Room 5204
Washington, D.C., 20410-2000
Telephone: 202-708-0836 or 1-800-669-9777
TTY: 1-800-927-9275
Fax: 202-708-1425

Rest assured, the HUD will investigate the situation further in a short amount of time. They are on your side.

By Devon McCollum