Federal and state fair housing laws prohibit housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status (families with children under age 18). In addition, Virginia's Fair Housing Law further protects "elderliness," individuals age 55 or older, from housing discrimination.
Fair Housing Law protects people from bias when trying to rent an apartment, buy a house, obtain a mortgage, or purchase homeowner's insurance. Fair housing requirements apply to all housing providers – property managers, owners, landlords, real estate agents, banks, savings institutions, credit unions, insurance companies, mortgage lenders, and appraisers.
The Fair Housing Board administers and enforces the Fair Housing Law, although the Real Estate Board is responsible for fair housing cases involving real estate licensees or their employees. Each Board investigates housing discrimination through the Fair Housing Office, which receives an average of 180 complaints each year. The majority of complaints involves disability and racial discrimination, while familial status complaints continue to rise.
Virginia Fair Housing Law applies to property managers, owners, landlords, real estate agents, banks, savings institutions, credit unions, insurance companies, mortgage lenders and appraisers. If you're working with a property manager or real estate agent to buy a home or locate a rental, or if you're trying to get a mortgage or homeowner's insurance, you cannot be treated differently because of your race, color, religion, sex, national origin, elderliness, familial status or disability.
Virginia's Fair Housing Regulations list additional actions that are prohibited.
Virginia's Fair Housing Law makes it illegal to discriminate in residential housing on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, elderliness, familial status and disability. The law prohibits applying one standard to one class of individuals while applying a different standard to another class of individuals.
For example, it would be illegal to ask an applicant with a disability to provide a credit report if applicants without disabilities do not have to provide one.
Virginia's Fair Housing Law applies to rental transactions (trying to rent an apartment or house), to sales transactions (trying to purchase a home), to financing transactions (trying to obtain a mortgage), to insurance transactions (trying to obtain homeowners or rental insurance), and to advertising transactions (how individuals, companies and newspapers advertise about rental vacancies or homes for sale).
Historically, most housing complaints have been based on race. Complaints based on disability, however, continue to increase and may eventually displace race as the most frequent topic of housing discrimination complaints. Complaints based on familial status are generally the third most common type of housing complaint.
RaceIt would be illegal to deny someone a housing opportunity because they are black or white.
ColorSome people have darker complexions than others. If would be illegal to deny someone a housing opportunity on that basis.
ReligionA housing provider could not refuse to sell or rent to someone because they practice Islam or Christianity.
National originA housing provider could not refuse to sell or rent to someone because they are Asian or Jewish.
SexExcept for shared living spaces, it would be illegal to rent to one sex (gender) and not the other. For more information on sexual discrimination, visit the Sexual and Non-Sexual Discrimination page.
ElderlinessElderliness means an individual who has attained his 55th birthday. Under this protected class, a housing provider could not deny a housing opportunity to someone because they are age 55 or older.
Familial statusFamilial status means having children who are under age 18. Unless a facility is a senior/retirement facility, it may not refuse to rent to families with children. Senior and retirement facilities for individuals over age 55 or 62 may, however, lawfully refuse to rent to families with children.
In terms of occupancy standards as they relate to families and children, the general guideline is that housing providers should allow at least two people per bedroom. In some circumstances landlords should allow more than two people per bedroom, while in other circumstances a bedroom and the total living space would not accommodate two people in every bedroom. Housing providers should also not dictate in which bedrooms younger children of different sexes sleep, as this is a parental matter. Nor should a housing provider dictate what floor families with children should live on.
DisabilityThe law also makes it illegal to deny a housing opportunity to individuals with disabilities. For information about housing and disabilities see Housing and People with Disabilities. For information on design and construction of multi-family housing with accessible features, see the Design and Construction page.
Several groups are not protected under either the state or federal fair housing law. For example, students and smokers are not protected. Income status, sexual orientation, and marital status (unmarried couples) are also not protected groups. However, these classes may be protected under a local ordinance. Therefore, before drafting a fair housing policy, a housing provider should determine if local ordinances protect certain classes that are not protected by the state or federal law.
In addition to investigating complaints, the Virginia Fair Housing Office provides training and outreach in support of its mandate to promote equal housing opportunities. Every year, staff travels throughout Virginia providing training to housing providers, housing consumers, and local and state officials.
Presentations offered by the Fair Housing Office are interactive, tailored to specific audiences and, best of all, free. The course teaches you about legal rights and responsibilities under the Fair Housing Law. The course provides the basic foundation of Fair Housing Law required of all housing providers.
Who should take the class? Landlords, property managers, leasing consultants, owners of manufactured housing, the general public . . . anyone who sells, leases, owns, or manages residential property. Housing providers who complete the course are eligible for state certification by the Fair Housing Board.
What Happens When a Fair Housing Complaint is Filed? | How to File a Fair Housing Complaint
The Fair Housing Office is responsible for investigating housing discrimination complaints.
Complaints must be filed in writing within one year after the alleged discriminatory housing practice occurred or terminated.
Once the Fair Housing Office accepts a complaint for investigation, the complaint is assigned to an investigator. The purpose of the investigation is to gather facts about the complaint. An investigator generally interviews the complainant, the respondent, and relevant witnesses. The investigator may also review documents and records.
During the investigative process, a trained professional from the Alternative Dispute Resolution Section coordinates the conciliation process. Conciliation is a voluntary process in which the parties attempt to resolve the complaint by agreeing to mutually acceptable terms. If conciliation is successful, the investigation will be suspended. If conciliation is unsuccessful, or if one of the parties does not want to attempt conciliation, the investigation continues until it is complete.
After the investigation is complete, the investigator writes a final investigative report (FIR). The FIR summarizes the information obtained during the investigation, including contacts with the complainant and respondent, witnesses’ statements, and records obtained and examined during the investigation. The FIR is presented to the Fair Housing Board (or the Real Estate Board for complaints involving real estate licensees or their employees) at its next regularly scheduled meeting.
If conciliation is successful and both parties reach an agreement, the Board may vote to accept the conciliation agreement. If conciliation is unsuccessful in resolving the complaint, or if the Board fails to accept an agreement, the Board will either dismiss the complaint or determine if reasonable cause exists to support a charge of discrimination. In cases where the Board determines reasonable cause and issues a charge of discrimination, the Attorney General's Office brings civil suit in circuit court seeking relief for the complainant.
If the Board dismisses the complaint, both parties will be notified in writing that no further action will be taken. If the Board issues a charge of discrimination, the charge is immediately referred to the Attorney General's Office for further action, and both parties will be notified accordingly in writing.
If you believe you are the victim of housing discrimination, you may file a complaint by downloading the Housing Discrimination Complaint Form.
Please complete the form with as much detail as possible, then send it to: Virginia Fair Housing OfficeDepartment of Professional and Occupational Regulation9960 Mayland Drive, Suite 400Richmond, VA 23233
For more information:
Phone: (804) 367-8530 or toll-free (888) 551-3247FAX: (866) 480-8333Email: FairHousing@dpor.virginia.govTDD: Virginia Relay 7-1-1
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