Thursday, August 5, 2010

All about Federal Fair Housing law

This is a reprint of an earlier post.



Federal Fair Housing law prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental or financing of housing because of:

  • Race or Color

  • National Origin (the country in which one was born)

  • Religion

  • Sex

  • Familial Status (whether one has children or not, whether married or not)

  • Handicap/Disability


Some states include additional groups, such as “sexual orientation”. You can check your state’s protected classes here. Fair Housing Law as it stands now is an amalgamation of various laws enacted during the late 1960s and mid 1970s.**


Notice that age is *not* on the list. Metro Phoenix has lots and lots of “active adult” communities which restrict the minimum age of their residents. As an aside, we used to call these retirement communities. Apparently we don’t retire anymore, we just get active.


The most common question I hear from buyers is “Is this a good neighborhood?”


What they’re really asking about of course, is either the crime rate or the type of people living in the area. Fair Housing law prevents me, your Realtor from telling you about the neighbors if that conversation might stray into discussing one of the protected classes. Most Realtors just don’t discuss the topic at all, for fear of violating Fair Housing law. It’s rumored that the FHA sends testers out to work with Realtors, secretly checking for violations of the law. True? I don’t know but I don’t want to find out.


Besides, my idea of “nice” or “good” neighbors might vary wildly from yours. Some people find the idea of living near folks of another race, religion or sexual orientation is a big problem. Most don’t care. My best advice to buyers in this scenario is to drive through and walk through the neighborhood yourself, at different times of the day, to see what you see. Talk to your potential new neighbors. Visit a grocery store, or a park in the area. See if you feel comfortable in the area.


As for crime, I can and will point you towards websites that list crime statistics, usually by ZIP code. I usually beg off answering the ‘crime’ question, because one person’s ’safe neighborhood’ is another person’s ‘fringe neighborhood’ is another person’s ‘hood.’


Housing not covered by the Federal Fair Housing law





  • Single family housing not sold through a broker


  • Owner-occupied housing of no more than 4 units (you own a duplex & rent the other side)


  • Housing operated by private clubs which limit membership (co-op’s)


The first bullet above applies to For Sale By Owner homes. Selling it yourself? Discriminate all you want. I’m kidding of course, but the government can’t interfere if you want to sell your home yourself but intend to refuse to sell it to Australians born in New Zealand who practice the B’hai faith.


The second & third bullet points don’t apply much in metro Phoenix. But there are  some duplexes and fourplexes in our Valley, and even a few co-op’s down in South Scottsdale. No one can force you to rent the other side of your duplex to a family with 17 kids if you abhor children. Similarly, the co-op board reviews applicants who want to purchase a unit, and they make their own rules about who can move in.


For more information, see the Federal Fair Housing booklet and information about updates to Fair Housing law. Think you’ve been discriminated against in housing? The National Fair Housing Advocate Online can help. Note that all these resources apply to housing you buy. For help with rental situations, see the Arizona Residential Landlord Tenant Act.



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**As a side note, I do actually remember overhearing a mortgage banker telling my just-divorced Mother in the early 1970s that they couldn’t possibly transfer the mortgage on our home from “Mr. and Mrs.” to just “Ms.” because. . . well, she was a woman. . . don’t you see. . . she could get pregnant, and then how would she pay the mortgage? When you think about it, it’s really astounding that was only 40 years ago.