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How Can You Tell Whether Your Rental Rejection Was Actionable Discrimination?

While each state, as well as the federal government, has promulgated a wide net of regulations designed to reduce or eliminate racial, sexual, and disability discrimination in the housing context, unlawful discrimination may still take place on a daily basis. Because of the invidious nature of discrimination, it can often be tough to determine whether a landlord has rejected your application on a protected basis (such as your race, gender, number of children, or religion) rather than a permissible one (such as the number of pets you own or a history of eviction). Read on to learn more about the types of discrimination prohibited under fair housing laws, as well as some factors you'll want to consider when evaluating whether the rejection you experienced was unlawful:

What types of discrimination are unlawful in the housing context?

Federal fair housing laws prohibit the denial of renting, buying, or financing housing on the basis of any protected characteristic. These can include: 

  • Race
  • Color
  • National Origin
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Disability
  • The presence or number of children

Although landlords are free to reject rental applications of those with criminal histories, poor credit, pets, or even loud vehicles, rejection of an application solely on the basis of a protected characteristic can subject the landlord to hefty civil penalties for each violation. 

How can you tell whether rejection of your rental application was against the law? 

Few landlords are foolish or brazen enough to openly disclose the fact that they denied your rental application on the basis of a protected characteristic. However, this doesn't mean you don't have a case; instead, you may need to do a bit of digging to see whether there is any pattern or practice of discrimination. 

For example, if you're able to show that this landlord accepts 90 percent of applications from white or Christian applicants but only 10 percent of applications from African-American or atheist applicants, absent any other disqualifying factors for the latter group, this may be enough to show per se discrimination on the basis of race or religion. On the other hand, if your landlord accepts approximately the same proportion of applicants from both groups that apply, it can be much harder to make a case.

Before you're able to delve into your landlord's records, you'll first need to file a complaint with your local fair housing commission. This complaint will launch an independent investigation, at which time you'll be able to provide evidence in support of your claim to allow the commission to investigate further. 

Contact a law office that specializes in civil rights for more information and assistance.