This post is part of our ongoing series on the relationship between racism and homeownership.
“Are you married?” “Are you pregnant?” Umm … are they allowed to ask that?
The short answer is: No.
Coming from mortgage lenders, real estate agents, and other professionals in the housing industry, these types of questions, even if they seem well-intentioned, are illegal under the Fair Housing Act.
Passed by Congress in 1968, the Fair Housing Act is a national law that serves to prevent discriminatory practices in housing and homeownership.
The act was created on the principle that every American should have equal opportunity to find a place to live, without experiencing discrimination based on their status as a “protected class,” which is a group of people protected by law.
The protected classes under the Fair Housing Act are:
- skin color
- familial status (such as being pregnant or having children)
- national origin
Depending on where you live, you may have additional fair housing rights (such as sexual orientation being a protected class) under state or local laws. Check with a local fair housing center to find out.
To be clear, discrimination is the unequal or unfair treatment of a person based on a personal trait — what they look like or where they’re from, for example. It’s slightly different than prejudice, which refers to someone’s personal opinion of you, as the discrimination can prevent your access to necessities, such as a job or housing.
Now that you have some background on where your rights and protections come from, here are three examples of questions real estate professionals legally cannot ask you:
- Are you ill or disabled?
If a lender or real estate agent tries to feel you out to see if you’re suffering from any serious health problems or inquires about a possible disability, that’s a violation of your legal protections.
The Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act both prohibit discrimination based on health problems.
Note: Whether you qualify for a mortgage can’t be based on your age, either. “The only instance where a mortgage applicant’s age is relevant is when determining if they’re old enough to sign legal documents, or if they’re eligible for a reverse mortgage,” says Lisa Rice, president and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA).