Prohibition of Discrimination in the Sale or Rental of Real Estate

The Fair Housing Act, which can be found at 42 U.S.C.S. § 3601 et seq., prohibits discrimination in the sale or rental of real estate on certain enumerated bases. In its findings and declaration of purpose, Congress stated the following:

It is the policy of the United States to provide, within constitutional limitations, for fair housing throughout the United States.

42 U.S.C.S. § 3601.

Despite numerous challenges in the years since the law was enacted, the Fair Housing Act has passed constitutional muster.

Specific Prohibitions

The law prohibits a wide range of activities. In particular, the law provides that it is unlawful:


  • to refuse to sell or rent after the making of a bona fide offer, or to refuse to negotiate for the sale or rental of, or otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin;
  • to discriminate against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection therewith, because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin;
  • to make, print, publish, or cause to be made, printed, or published, any notice, statement, or advertisement, with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin, or an intention to make any such preference, limitation, or discrimination;
  • to represent to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin that any dwelling is not available for inspection, sale, or rental when such dwelling is in fact so available;
  • to discriminate in the sale or rental, or to otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any buyer or renter because of a handicap; or
  • to discriminate against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection with such dwelling, because of a handicap of that person, a person residing in or intending to reside in that dwelling after it is sold, rented or made available, or any person associated with that person.

42 U.S.C.S. § 3604(a)-(f)(2).

Statutory Interpretation

In interpreting the Fair Housing Act, courts have accorded the law a broad construction in order to fully effectuate Congress' remedial purpose. Notably, even where a practice is not clearly discriminatory, it is illegal under the law if it has a discriminatory effect.