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Common Types of Discrimination in Real Estate

Oct 8 2020

This post is part of our ongoing series on the relationship between racism and homeownership.

Despite the protections of the Fair Housing Act, which was implemented in 1968 and was strengthened in 1988, racism and other forms of discrimination still occur in the real estate industry. 

The Fair Housing Act specifies six “protected classes” — groups of people who are protected from discrimination by law, based on characteristics such as their:

  • Race or color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Disability or handicap, including physical and mental impairment
  • Sex
  • Familial status (such as people with children under age 18 and pregnant women)​

​Additionally, some states and cities extend protections to more groups through their local laws.

Owners, brokers, managers, or anyone else who rents or sells homes cannot refuse to sell, rent or negotiate with you because you’re a member of a protected class. They cannot treat members of a protected class differently than anyone else.

If you want to get out there and fight the good fight, or just protect yourself from unfair treatment, it helps to know what bad behavior to keep an eye out for.  

Refer to our glossary of discriminatory housing practices below: 

Harassment: Homebuyers and renters are protected from harassing conduct under the Fair Housing Act. Harassment can take many forms. It involves actions that create a hostile environment and that interfere with your ability to live comfortably. It also includes requests for money or other favors in exchange for access to housing.

Inaccessibility: Under the Fair Housing Act, it’s illegal to deny housing to or make it inaccessible for people with disabilities. Landlords and other property managers must also make reasonable disability accommodations, such as allowing a seeing-eye dog in a building that normally doesn’t allow pets.

Mortgage lending discrimination: This is when lenders and insurance agents provide fewer and/or lower quality mortgages or policies to homebuyers due to characteristics such as their race, age, or ethnicity. 

Racially restrictive covenants: These are contractual agreements that prohibit the purchase, lease, or occupation of a home by a specified group of people.  

Redlining: This is the discriminatory business practice by which lenders deny mortgages to homebuyers based on the characteristics of a neighborhood and the people who live in it (particularly their race and ethnicity).

For some background, redlining was legal in the United States before 1968. In the 1930s, the federal government adopted maps that color-coded and labeled neighborhoods on a scale from Type A, or Best (Green), to Type D, or Hazardous (Red). Residents in Type C and D neighborhoods were populated with mostly Black and immigrant residents. It then became difficult or impossible to borrow mortgages for homes in neighborhoods rated C or D.

Steering: This is the practice of guiding homebuyers into communities already populated by residents who share their characteristics, such as race or ethnicity. Steering in real estate can be implemented in several ways, including when brokers show fewer sales listings to minority buyers and/or only show them listings in certain neighborhoods.

Interested in more resources?

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