The federal government in the United States has loads of rules on the books, and some of the most essential rules guide real estate and are designed to prevent discrimination. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 was a landmark piece of legislation that outlawed housing discrimination based upon several demographic factors like national origin, creed, or race.
A Volatile History
Title VIII of the act is often called the "Fair Housing Act," and the legislation was signed into law during an extremely turbulent time in the country during the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination riots. Conflicted and angry Americans participated in riots in major metropolitan areas like Louisville, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Kansas City to protest racial inequality.
In 1968, the Fair Housing Act was meant to enhance the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and was expanded further in later years when additional demographic labels were added to the list, including gender in 1974 and people with disabilities in 1988.
The Fair Housing Act is quite a long document that covers many types of discrimination. Unfortunately, housing discrimination isn't always immediately obvious to a buyer, and not all buyers are aware of the protections of the act.
Today's Home Buyers & Renters and Real Estate Discrimination
What does this landmark act mean for home buyers today? The federal government allows individuals or families who believe they've been the victim of housing discrimination to "seek redress," which essentially means you can file a lawsuit.
When you decide to move into a new home (which may entail renting) or make a purchase of a new home, you'll want to familiarize yourself with the resources of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This government agency handles housing discrimination complaints.
HUD offers some common examples of housing discrimination for renters which include:
- Denying to rent a unit to someone younger than 65 in a community developed for retirees
- Eviction from a unit based upon the religion practiced by tenants
- Refusing to provide an accessible unit to a tenant with a disability
HUD also offers vital examples of housing discrimination for home buyers:
- The exclusion of a buyer from a certain neighborhoods due to demographics
- Refusal of financing to a buyer based upon race, religion, etc.
- Showing a buyer homes in certain neighborhoods because of an ethnic background
When to Seek Legal Opinion
If there's any portion of the Fair Housing Act that you may want to consider, it's the section that deals with the statute of limitations on bringing complaints. Statues of limitations are legal timelines during which a plaintiff may file a suit with the court over a grievance.
Section 810, Administrative Enforcement; Preliminary Matters states:
An aggrieved person may, not later than one year after an alleged discriminatory housing practice has occurred or terminated, file a complaint with the Secretary alleging such discriminatory housing practice. The Secretary, on the Secretary's own initiative, may also file such a complaint.
This section means that for issues of housing discrimination, you have one year to file a complaint. Statues of limitations exist to ensure issues are brought to the court's attention in a timely manner. Unfortunately, the statue of limitations regarding housing discrimination is extremely brief.
If you decide to buy a house and don't realize until several months into your search that you were the victim of discrimination, you could have just a few months to bring that issue to the court. It may sound like a legal advertisement to suggest that it's essential to talk to a lawyer as soon as possible, but in the case of housing discrimination, this is potent advice.
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