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Questions and Answers on Fair Housing
The purpose of the fair housing laws is to protect a person’s right to own, sell, purchase, or rent housing of his or her choice without fear
of unlawful discrimination. The fair housing laws are intended to allow everyone equal access to housing.
State and Federal fair housing laws prohibit discrimination in the housing market on the basis of race, color, sex, religion,
national origin, handicap, or familial status. To discriminate against a person on the basis of his or her membership in one of these
protected categories is against the law.
This information focuses primarily on the fair housing laws as they are applied in the State of North Carolina.
Yes, except for the following limited exemptions:
Refusing to sell, rent or negotiate – It is against the law to take any of the following actions because a person is a member of one of the protected categories:
Steering – Discouraging a person from seeking housing in a particular community, neighborhood, or development because the person is or is not a member of a protected category.
For example, a real estate agent shows a black person housing in predominately black neighborhoods and a white person housing in predominately white neighborhoods.
Interference, coercion, or intimidation – Trying to limit the benefits of renting or buying housing in an area because the person is a member of one of the protected
categories. This includes trying to coerce, threaten, intimidate, retaliate against, or interfere in any way with the use and enjoyment of housing.
– Advertising or making any statement which indicates directly or indirectly an intent to make a limitation, specification, or to discriminate with respect
to members of one of the protected categories.
(also referred to as panic peddling) – Trying, in a direct or subtle way, to scare a person into moving out of a neighborhood by representing that
a person from one of the protected categories is considering or is in fact moving into the neighborhood. For example, stating that the neighborhood
would decline or that the crime rate would increase if members of a protected category moved into the neighborhood would be unlawful.
Redlining – Being denied or subjected to stricter conditions in applying for a loan on property in a particular area because of the racial composition of the area, including
loans to purchase, construct, improve, repair, or maintain housing.
Yes. Anyone involved in the real estate transaction who discriminates based on a protected category has violated the fair housing laws. For example, a local banker
informs a real estate agent that if the agent allows anyone else with kids to move into the neighborhood, the bank will not do business with the agent
or the agent’s customers.
No. Owners may rent or sell to whomever they choose as long as their decisions are not based on the fact that a would-be tenant or buyer is a member of a protected
category. If someone from a protected category becomes a tenant, the owner may hold that tenant to the same standard of performance and behavior as
Can landlords protect themselves from complaints of discrimination when they reject someone from a protected category?
Yes. A landlord should have detailed standards for deciding who is acceptable as a tenant and who is not. However, these standards may not be based upon a prospective
tenant’s membership in a protected category. Such standards are particularly important in decisions to reject a tenant applicant because of poor credit,
and to place would-be tenants on a “waiting list.” The landlord should then apply these standards equally to every tenant applicant. If a waiting list
is used, the landlord must make sure that every applicant who is told that his or her name will be placed on the list is indeed put there and that,
as an applicant’s name comes up, the applicant is notified of this fact.
A handicapping condition exists if someone has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities. Some examples are: physical disability,
mental illness or retardation, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, cancer, heart disease, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection or AIDS, drug
addiction (other than addiction caused by current, illegal use of a controlled substance) and alcoholism. However, a landlord does not have to rent to
anyone, including a handicapped person, who would constitute a genuine, direct threat to the health or safety of other tenants or whose tenancy
would result in substantial physical damage to the property of others.
Yes. A landlord must allow a handicapped person to make reasonable modifications to the existing premises as necessary for the full enjoyment of the premises, such
as widening doorways, installing handrails, and installing wheelchair ramps. However, the handicapped person is responsible for the cost of the modifications.
A landlord may condition permission to make modifications on the tenant’s agreeing to restore the interior of the premises to the original condition
if the modifications made by the handicapped tenant would interfere with the next tenant’s reasonable use and enjoyment of the property. The landlord
may also withhold permission until seeing a description of the proposed modifications which provides reasonable assurance that the modifications
will be done in a workmanlike manner. [Note: All multifamily dwellings covered by the fair housing laws and ready for first occupancy after March 13, 1991,
have to be designed and constructed so that few, if any, modifications will be necessary.]
No. However, if the nature of the modifications is such as would interfere with the next tenant’s use and enjoyment of the property, and correction of the modifications
would be especially costly, the landlord may, as part of a restoration agreement between the landlord and tenant, require the tenant to pay into an interest-bearing
escrow account a reasonable amount to cover restoration costs. The tenant would be entitled to any interest which accrues on the escrow account.
Yes. A landlord must make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services as necessary to afford a handicapped person equal opportunity to use and
enjoy a housing unit, including public and common use areas; for example, allowing a visually-impaired tenant to have an aid dog in a community where
no pets are allowed, and allowing a tenant with a serious heart condition to have a reserved parking space close to the tenant’s apartment.
No. A landlord can advise a handicapped person of the availability of specially equipped units, but the handicapped person must be allowed to choose from any of
the units which are available.
No. The fair housing laws protect a person who (1) has a child under the age of 18, (2) has legal custody of a child, (3) is designated by the parent to care for
a child (provided that the designee has written permission from the parent), (4) is pregnant, or (5) is in the process of obtaining legal custody of
a child. However, the fair housing laws do not protect persons denied housing because they are single, married, or living with someone.
No, unless they qualify for one of the two exemptions which allow for adults only housing for housing elderly persons. [Note: There are numerous requirements which
must be met to qualify for these exemptions. Contact the North Carolina Human Relations Commission for further details.] If a housing complex qualifies
for the elderly person exemption, then it may discriminate based on familial status only. It may not discriminate on the basis of any of the other protected
No. A member of a protected category may not be assigned to a particular section of a community, neighborhood or development, or to a particular floor of a building
because of being a member of a particular category.
No. Although a landlord may set “occupancy standards’ for the number of people that will be allowed to live in a unit, the standards should not be based on the age
or sex of the individuals. [Note: The fair housing laws do not limit the applicability of any reasonable local, State, or Federal restrictions regarding
the maximum number of persons permitted to occupy a housing unit.]
No. Even if a real estate agent has no discriminatory intent, the agent is in violation of the fair housing laws when discriminating against persons from one of
the protected categories at the direction of the owner or lessor. Likewise, an agent is in violation if he or she knows that members of protected categories
may be unlawfully rejected by the owner or lessor.
The agent should immediately terminate the agency relationship with the seller or landlord. The agent should then send a letter to the seller or landlord
stating that the relationship has been terminated and explaining why. Next, the agent should inform any other agents or other parties to the transaction
that he or she no longer represents the seller or landlord.
No. This is steering, even if the buyer requests it. The real estate agent should inform the buyer that he or she can show property based on any of the buyer’s
other criteria, but not the presence or absence in the area of members of a protected category.
Yes. It is a violation of the fair housing laws to deny a qualified real estate agent access to or membership in any membership listing service, real estate brokers’
organization or other service, organization, or facility relating to the business of selling or renting housing, because he or she is a member of
one of the protected categories.
Yes. A violation of the fair housing laws is a violation of the North Carolina Real Estate License Law; therefore, it could result in suspension or revocation of the
agent’s license by the North Carolina Real Estate Commission.
You may file a complaint or notify the North Carolina Human Relations Commission (NCHRC), 217 W. Jones St., Raleigh, N.C. 27603-1336. (Phone: 919/733-7996).
However, the complaint must be filed within one year after the alleged violation occurred. The North Carolina Human Relations Commission will be glad to
answer any questions you may have.
The NCHRC will investigate to determine whether unlawful discrimination has occurred. If it has, the NCHRC will attempt to eliminate or correct the discriminatory
practice by informal conference, persuasion, or conciliation. If it is unable to resolve the matter:
If the NCHRC fails to find that discrimination has taken place, it will dismiss the complaint
and issue a right-to-sue letter.
Of course, you have the right to file a civil suit, at your expense, at any time based on a violation of the fair housing laws without filing a complaint with