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Fair Housing Laws

Home Forward conducts its business in accordance with the Federal Fair Housing Law, the City of Portland Fair Housing Ordinance, and the Oregon Revised Statutes.

In selling, renting, or leasing real property:

A.) The U.S. Fair Housing Amendments act of 1988 makes it illegal to discriminate against any person because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap (disability), familial status, or national origin (coverage includes private housing, housing that receives Federal financial assistance, and State and local government housing.);

B.) The Code of the City of Portland, Oregon, adds further protections that make it illegal to discriminate against any person on the basis of sexual orientation, source of income, or age (§ 23.01.060);

C.) The State of Oregon adds further protection that makes it illegal to discriminate against any person on the basis of marital status (ORS §659.033).

These laws cover most housing. In some circumstances, the laws exempt owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, single-family housing sold or rented without the use of a broker, and housing operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members.

Prohibited Actions

In the sale and rental of housing, no one may take any of the following actions based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap (disability), familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, source of income, age, or marital status:

  • Refuse to rent or sell housing;
  • Refuse to negotiate for housing;
  • Make housing unavailable;
  • Deny a dwelling;
  • Set different terms, conditions, or privileges for sale or rental of a dwelling;
  • Provide different housing services or facilities;
  • Falsely deny that housing is available for inspection, sale, or rental;
  • For profit, persuade owners to sell or rent (blockbusting);
  • Deny anyone access to or membership in a facility or service (such as a multiple listing service) related to the sale or rental of housing.

In addition, it is illegal for anyone to threaten, coerce, intimidate, or interfere with anyone exercising a fair housing right or assisting others who exercise that right.

However, housing need not be made available to a person who is a direct threat to the health or safety of others or who currently uses illegal drugs.

Additional Protection If You Have A Disability

If you (or someone associated with you):

  • Have a physical or mental disability (including hearing, mobility & visual impairments, chronic alcoholism, chronic mental illness, AIDS, AIDS-Related Complex, and mental retardation) that substantially limits one or more major life activities; or
  • Have a record of such disability; or
  • Are regarded as having such a disability

your landlord may not:

  • Refuse to let you make reasonable modifications to your dwelling or common use areas, at your expense, if necessary for the disabled person to use the housing. (Where reasonable, the landlord may permit changes only if you agree to restore the property to its original condition when you move.); or
  • Refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services if necessary for the disabled person to use the housing.

Example: A building with a "no pets" policy must allow a visually impaired tenant to keep a guide dog.

Example: An apartment complex that offers tenants ample, unassigned parking must honor a request from a mobility-impaired tenant for a reserved space near her apartment if necessary to assure that she can have barrier-free access to her home.

Housing Opportunities For Families

Unless a building or community qualifies as housing for older persons, it may not discriminate based on familial status. That is, it may not discriminate against families in which one or more children under 18 live with:

  • A parent; or
  • A person who has legal custody of the child or children; or
  • The designee of the parent or legal custodian, with the parent or custodian's written permission.

Familial status protection also applies to pregnant women and anyone securing legal custody of a child under 18.

Exemption: Housing for older persons is exempt from the prohibition against familial status discrimination if:

  • The HUD Secretary has determined that it is specifically designed for and occupied by elderly persons under a Federal, State or local government program; or
  • It is occupied solely by persons who are 62 or older; or
  • It houses at least one person who is 62 or older in at least 80 percent of the occupied units, and adheres to a policy that demonstrates an intent to house persons who are 62 or older.

If You Think Your Rights Have Been Violated

The U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) is ready to help with any problem of housing discrimination. If you think your rights have been violated, there are several ways to file a complaint:

  • You can file a complaint right now, by downloading and completing the complaint form, Housing Discrimination Complaint Form (HUD-903) (Spanish Version) (English Version)
  • You can call HUD's toll-free Fair Housing Hotline at 1-800-669-9777
  • You can print out a form, complete it, and drop it off at your local HUD office or mail it to:

Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity
U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development
451 Seventh St. SW, Room 5204
Washington, DC 20410-2000

You can write a letter to HUD with:

  • Your name and address
  • The name and address of the person your complaint is about
  • The address of the house or apartment you were trying to rent or buy
  • The date when this incident occurred
  • A short description of what happened
  • Then mail it to the Fair Housing Hub closest to you, which for the Portland metro area is:

Fair Housing Hub, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Seattle Federal Office Building
909 First Avenue, Room 205
Seattle, Washington 98104-1000

  • Or you can call the Fair Housing Hub for more information at:
  • Phone: (206) 220-5170
  • Toll-free: (800) 877-0246
  • TTY (206) 220-5185

You have one year after an alleged violation to file a complaint with HUD, but you should file it as soon as possible.

HUD's Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity website has more information regarding illegal discrimination in housing.  HUD also has developed a free fair housing app for iPhones and iPads that explains your rights and gives you the ability to file a complaint from these devices.  Click here to get the app.

Information For Landlords Regarding Screening Guidelines

The purpose of the fair housing laws is to prevent discrimination on the basis of a person's membership in a protected class. Nothing in the law forbids you from setting fair screening guidelines and applying them equally to all applicants.

Keep in mind that every person belongs to a protected class - each of us can be defined in terms of our race, color, religion, sex, handicap (disability), familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, source of income, age, or marital status. So any time you deny an applicant, you deny someone who belongs to a protected class. The question is whether or not you treat applicants (or tenants) adversely because of the class to which they belong. If the criteria you set are blind to class issues, and you apply them consistently, you may turn down applicants who do not measure up.

The key lies in making sure your process is fair - that it neither directly nor indirectly discriminates on the basis of one of the protected classes. To comply, you should design a fair process and apply it consistently and equally to all applicants. Examples:

  • You may have a rule that requires all applicants to show photo ID, and you could turn down applicants who cannot produce a photo ID. The practice becomes illegal if you apply the rule inconsistently - for example, requiring ID from people of one class but not from those of another.
  • You could give a document to all applicants that outlines rules of the unit and warns against selling drugs on the property. The practice becomes illegal if you hand the document to applicants of one class, but not of another. (Should you develop such a document, also make sure the language used does not discourage members of a protected class from applying.)
  • If someone provides you with false information or lies on the application, you may refuse to rent to them. This is both legal and highly appropriate.

There is nothing illegal about setting fair criteria and holding all applicants to the same standards. By the consistent use of such guidelines you can retain full and appropriate control over who lives in your rental units and who does not.

As you study the letter of the law, keep its spirit in mind as well. The sooner we remove the types of discrimination that weaken our communities, the sooner we can build a stronger, more equitable society.