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Fair Housing 

What it means, who's protected and the unintentional discrimination

What is fair housing? It's the right to choose housing free from unlawful discrimination. This applies to anyone involved in the sale and purchase of residential real estate, as well as anyone involved in the renting/leasing of residential real estate. This includes real estate brokers, property managers, landlords, lenders and insurers.

The Fair Housing Act was federally adopted in 1968 as a part of the Civil Rights Act, which was later expanded in 1988 to make illegal discrimination when renting, buying, insuring, obtaining a mortgage, obtaining housing assistance or participating in any other housing-related activities, regardless of a person's protected class. The protected classes on a federal level are race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status and those with a physical or mental disability.

The State of Oregon has expanded on the list of protected classes to include marital status, sexual orientation and gender identity, and also addresses and makes illegal to discriminate based on one's source of income. The income sources protected under Oregon State law are Oregon residents who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability benefits. In addition, recipients of unemployment insurance benefits, Section 8 (HUD) vouchers and agency rent checks.

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In Oregon, fair housing applies to ALL dwellings. This includes single family homes, apartments, condos, floating homes, retirement housing, assisted living, adult foster care homes, shelters or transitional housing, rent assistance programs and motel rooms.

When considering forms of discrimination, one also needs to beware and consider Disparate Impact (unintentional discrimination). Disparate Impact refers to practices that adversely affect one group of people of a protected characteristic more than another, when there was not the intention or motive to discriminate. Take, for example, a landlord requiring tenants to have full-time employment. This could adversely affect someone with disabilities who is not able to hold full-time employment based on physical limitations, or a single mother who is caring for her two young children.

In terms of real estate, it's important to note that verbiage in advertisements can fall under the purview of Fair Housing. For example, advertising that states something is walking distance to a place of interest is in fact a discriminatory statement and affects people with disabilities—or perhaps referring to a condo or apartment as a perfect spot for a single executive; thereby discouraging and discriminating based on familial status (a person with children).

Steering is another form of discrimination that violates the Fair Housing Act. It's the practices of directing one toward or away from certain neighborhoods based on their race, national origin or familial status. An example of steering would be a real estate broker choosing to not show an African American buyer a certain neighborhood because that neighborhood is predominantly white; thereby limiting the availability of housing choices.

While the Fair Housing Act applies to most housing, there are some exemptions. The Act exempts owner-occupied buildings with four or fewer units, single-family housing sales without the use of a broker or licensed representative, and housing operated by private clubs that limits the occupancy to members only.

Awareness is key when it concerns Fair Housing. There are many resources available online when questioning compliance with the Fair Housing Act—or one can reach out to a local real estate industry professional with questions or for clarification.

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