Mississippi News

Harris: April is National Fair Housing Month

By Charlestien Harris

Every month, there seems to be something to celebrate or recognize, and April is no different! April is also known as National Fair Housing Month. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines fair housing as the right to choose housing free from unlawful discrimination. Federal, state, and local fair housing laws protect people from discrimination in housing transactions. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination by direct providers of housing, such as landlords and real estate companies, as well as other entities such as municipalities, banks, lending institutions, and homeowners’ insurance companies whose discriminatory practices make housing unavailable to persons because of race or color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, or disability. 

Charlestien Harris

Listed below are some examples of what may be considered illegal discrimination under the law:

  • A landlord informs a phone caller that an apartment is available, but upon meeting and seeing the caller is Black, he or she falsely claims the apartment was just rented. The apartment is then offered again to another caller of a different race.
  • A real estate agent refuses to show a house in a certain neighborhood to a buyer due to their race, religion, or ethnicity.
  • A homeowner advertises a house for sale but specifically states in the listing that they will not sell to families with young children, thereby discriminating based on familial status, which is prohibited under the Fair Housing Act.
  • A mortgage lender imposes a higher interest rate on a home loan for a property in a predominantly minority neighborhood compared to a predominantly white area, or offers a loan with unfavorable terms to a borrower based on their sex, race, or nationality.
  • A rental agent or landlord refuses to rent an apartment to a single woman with children.
  • A homeowner advertises a house for sale but specifically states in the advertisement that they will not sell to families with young children, thereby discriminating based on familial status, which is prohibited under the Fair Housing Act.
  • A newly constructed townhouse complex does not meet the accessibility standards required for buildings built after 1991, making it inaccessible for a potential buyer who uses a wheelchair.

There are exceptions to every rule, and the Fair Housing Act is no different. The Fair Housing Act applies to most housing. However, there are some limited circumstances in which owner-occupied buildings may be exempt if the property contains no more than four units. In cases involving a single-family home that is sold or rented without an agent, there are also some limited exemptions. One such case is housing run by religious organizations or private clubs, where the law may not apply. Fair housing laws cover most housing, including apartments, single-family homes, condominiums, manufactured homes, and others. In some circumstances, the laws exempt owner-occupied buildings with no more than two/four units, single-family housing sold or rented without the use of a broker, and housing operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members.

If you or someone you know has experienced one or more of these possible signs of discrimination, please report it. Individuals who believe they have been subjected to discrimination have the right to file complaints directly with HUD, or they can initiate a lawsuit in federal or state courts. The U.S. Department of Justice undertakes legal proceedings on behalf of individuals, often based on referrals from HUD. When people are denied housing, mortgages, or insurance because of discrimination, it’s not just illegal but it can force people into housing that may not meet their needs. We should do our best to ensure that illegal discrimination does not stop anyone from living in the housing of their choice. The more we know about fair housing laws, the more we can recognize and help prevent unfair housing practices from happening in our communities.

For additional information on this and other financial topics, visit our blog at banksouthern.com/blog, email me at Charlestien.Harris@banksouthern.com, or call me at 662-624-5776.

Until next week – stay financially fit!

Charlestien Harris is our financial contributor. She is a financial expert with Southern Bancorp Community Partners whose articles are seen in a number of publications around the region.

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