Virginia Fair Housing Office
Federal and state fair housing laws protects people from discrimination 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.
Who is Covered by the Law?
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, disability, source of funds, sexual orientation, gender identity, or military status. 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.
WARNING: Websites and organizations offering assistance animal registrations may suggest that purchasing such certification will qualify individuals to bring their animals into pet-free housing or to be exempt from pet deposit fees. The ability to receive a reasonable accommodation is not based on one’s ownership of an assistance animal, but rests instead on the existence of a disability as defined by the fair housing law. Ownership of an assistance animal—even if registered or certified as such—does not automatically qualify an individual as “disabled” under fair housing law. Fair housing law also prohibits the housing provider from requiring special training or certification for assistance animals. Read Guidance Document or view brochure to learn more.
Virginia's Fair Housing Law and Regulations apply 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.
Examples of Protected Classes
It would be illegal to deny someone a housing opportunity because they are black or white.
Some people have darker complexions than others. If would be illegal to deny someone a housing opportunity on that basis.
A housing provider could not refuse to sell or rent to someone because they practice Islam or Christianity.
A housing provider could not refuse to sell or rent to someone because they are Asian or Jewish.
Except 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.
Elderliness 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 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.
The law also makes it illegal to deny housing opportunities to individuals with disabilities. For information about housing and disabilities see Housing and People with Disabilities. For information on the design and construction of multi-family housing with accessible features, see the Design and Construction page.
Source of Funds
Any source that lawfully provides funds to or on behalf of a renter or buyer of housing, including any assistance, benefit, or subsidy program. (See Guidance Document.)
A person's actual or perceived heterosexuality, bisexuality, or homosexuality.
The gender-related identity, appearance, or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, with or without regard to the individual's designated sex at birth.
A member of the uniformed forces or reserves, a veteran, or a dependent as defined under the law.
Several groups are not protected under either the state or federal fair housing law. For example, students, smokers, and unmarried couples (marital status) 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.
What Happens When a Fair Housing Complaint is Filed?
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.
How to File a Fair Housing Complaint
If you believe you are the victim of housing discrimination, you may file a complaint by downloading the Housing Discrimination Complaint Form.
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*Make sure to download the application and open the document using the Adobe Reader software.
Spanish-language version available here: FORMULARIO DE QUEJA DE DISCRIMINACIÓN DE VIVIENDA de Virginia
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Fact Sheets, Brochures & General Information
Links to Other Useful Housing Websites
Links and associated content are provided for informational purposes only. They do not necessarily constitute an endorsement or approval by DPOR of the information, services, opinions, or products of the individuals or organizations.
Drafting Tenant and Community Rules
A good rule to follow when drafting rules or regulations is to draft them so they don't single out children or members of a protected class. Rather than having a sign that says, "Children are prohibited from running in the common areas," simply say, "No running in the common areas."Instead of saying, "Children keep off the grass," just say,"Keep off the grass."Rules and regulations that apply to "all residents" are less suspect than rules that single out children.
If you must single out children, consider doing so on the basis of health and safety considerations. For example, if you have a workout room with exercise equipment, ask the manufacturer to inform you what the age is for using the equipment without supervision. Then post a sign such as, "According to the manufacturer this equipment may not be used by anyone under 14 years old, unless accompanied by an adult."
If you're a housing provider, one way to reduce the probability of having a complaint filed against you is to treat everyone the same. Having written guidelines that you follow with each applicant can help ensure you treat everyone the same. Whether you're managing hundreds of units for a large company, or you're an individual who owns and rents a few units, it's a good idea to establish written guidelines for everything: from how you expect the rent to be paid, to your eviction process, to how you expect tenants to behave while living in your dwelling.
Part of your screening guidelines should include an applicant's ability to pay the rent on a timely basis. Therefore, you may ask the applicant to provide employment, income, and credit verification information. How much income and how long of an employment history you require depends on your housing market. You should set standards that allow you to compete for applicants. But setting standards too high may be viewed as trying to keep certain groups of people out of your rentals.
In addition to asking all applicants to verify their income and credit history, you may also ask all applicants to provide character references or criminal history checks. If the applicant has a criminal history, for example, you may chose not to rent to an individual with a conviction that might present a safety issue for other residents in your complex.
If you're concerned about renting to certain convicted criminals, you may establish a criminal background check as part of your application criteria. In establishing a criminal background check, keep the following in mind: put your policy in writing; get the applicant's permission to conduct the background check; enforce the policy consistently; and if you reject the applicant, tell them why.
Consistently applying a criminal background check policy means that you apply the policy to everyone. You apply it to the young and old, black and white, and everyone in between.
Even if you don't establish a criminal background check, you're not going to accept every applicant. Rejecting applicants for legitimate credit or income or character reasons should not invite a complaint if you follow certain procedures. As noted, you should establish written rental criteria that help all applicants understand how their applications will be screened. Then apply your criteria consistently. If you reject an applicant, send a letter explaining why and keep excellent records.
So you've approved an application and the tenant moves in. Shortly after the tenant moves in, however, you start getting complaints. The newest tenant is apparently harassing other tenants. And you're also getting complaints that they're playing their stereo too loud. What should you do?
When tenants break the rules, you should apply the consequences fairly, consistently, and according to established procedures. What consequences you apply depends on your procedures and on the records you've kept. Some of the records that you should keep include complaints that tenants file against other tenants; complaints that involve the police; letters that you sent to and received from the tenant about lease violations; and any other relevant letters and information. Keeping detailed and accurate records will be important if you have to defend why you evicted the tenant.
If you don't keep good records, proving that you evicted a tenant for a non-discriminatory reason may be more difficult.
How are maintenance and repair requests handled in your complex? Does your staff process repair requests from some tenants more quickly than from others? If so, it could lead to a fair housing complaint. Generally, repairs should be handled in the order that they are received, with emergency repairs taking precedence over routine repairs. Tenants need to understand that routine and non-emergency repairs may take days, or even longer, to complete.
Your tenants should understand how you process repair requests, and they should understand how long it will take before you get to their request. If an emergency repair takes you or your staff away from a scheduled routine repair, call the affected tenant and explain what happened. Among the things that you can do to reduce the probability of having a housing complaint filed against you is to be professional, be consistent, communicate with your tenants, and keep excellent records.
While reasonable modifications involve allowing a tenant with a disability to make a physical change to his unit or to a common area, reasonable accommodation requires the landlord to change or modify some rule, practice, policy, or service when doing so may be necessary to afford the tenant equal opportunity to use and enjoy the unit. For more information on reasonable accommodations, visit Housing and Disabilities: Reasonable Accommodations and Modifications.
Occupancy standards involve how many people may live in a unit.In December 1998, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published a statement of the standards that it reviews when evaluating a housing provider's occupancy standards, to determine whether actions under the provider's policies may constitute discriminatory conduct under the Fair Housing Act on the basis of familial status (which means on the basis of having children under age 18 in the family).
The Virginia Fair Housing Office applies HUD's occupancy standard, excerpted below:
... the Department believes that an occupancy policy of two persons in a bedroom, as a general rule, is reasonable under the Fair Housing Act. However, the reasonableness of any occupancy policy is rebuttable. Thus in reviewing occupancy cases HUD will consider the size and number of the bedrooms and other special circumstances. The following principles and hypothetical examples should assist you in determining whether the size of the bedrooms or special circumstances would make an occupancy policy unreasonable.
Size of bedrooms and unit
Consider two theoretical situations in which a housing provider refused to permit a family of five to rent a two-bedroom dwelling based on a "two people per bedroom" policy. In the first, the complainants are a family of five who applied to rent an apartment with two large bedrooms and spacious living areas. In the second, the complainants are a family of five who applied to rent a mobile home space on which they planned to live in a two-bedroom mobile home. Depending on the other facts, issuance of a charge might be warranted in the first situation, but not in the second.
The size of the bedrooms also can be a factor suggesting that a determination of no reasonable cause is appropriate. For example, if a mobile home is advertised as a "two-bedroom" home, but one bedroom is extremely small, depending on all the facts, it could be reasonable for the park manager to limit occupancy of the home to two people.
Age of children
The following hypotheticals involve two housing providers who refused to permit three people to share a bedroom. In the first, the complainants are two adult parents who applied to rent a one-bedroom apartment with their infant child, and both the bedroom and the apartment are large. In the second, the complainants are a family of two adult parents and one teenager who applied to rent a one-bedroom apartment. Depending on the other facts, issuance of a charge might be warranted in the first hypothetical, but not in the second.
Configuration of unit
The following imaginary situations illustrate special circumstances involving unit configurations. Two condominium associations each reject a purchase by a family of two adults and three children, based on a rule limiting sales to buyers who satisfy a "two-people per bedroom" occupancy policy. The first association manages a building in which the family of five sought to purchase a unit consisting of two bedrooms plus a den or study. The second manages a building in which the family of five sought to purchase a two-bedroom unit without a study or den. Depending on the other facts, a charge might be warranted in the first situation, but not in the second.
Other physical limitations of housing
In addition to physical considerations such as the size of each bedroom and the overall size and configuration of the dwelling, the Department will consider limiting factors identified by housing providers, such as the capacity of septic, sewer or other building systems.
State and local law
If a dwelling is governed by state or local government occupancy requirements, and the housing provider's occupancy policies reflect those requirements, HUD would consider the governmental requirements as a special circumstance tending to indicate that the housing provider's occupancy policies are reasonable.
Other relevant factors
Other relevant factors supporting a reasonable cause recommendation based on the conclusion that the occupancy policies are pretextual would include evidence that the housing provider has:
The Building Officials and Code Administrators handbook states that for health and safety reasons you need 70 square feet of bedroom space for one occupant. If you have more than one occupant you need 50 square feet per person. If you have a unit with a one-bedroom that measures 10 x 8 or 80 square feet it would be too small for two people. But if you have a unit with a one-bedroom that measures 10 x 16 it may be big enough for three people.
Housing providers should strive to balance the requirement to implement a reasonable occupancy standard against their right to protect their property from overcrowding. Housing providers should also strive to balance the requirement to implement a reasonable occupancy standard against their right to protect their investment. Under some circumstances, a large unit with three bedrooms may reasonably accommodate seven or eight people without creating an overcrowded situation and without jeopardizing the housing provider's investment. Under other circumstances, a unit with three bedrooms may only reasonably accommodate five people. Each situation and the complex has to be evaluated based on its own merit.
- made discriminatory statements;
- adopted discriminatory rules governing the use of common facilities;
- taken other steps to discourage families with children from living in its housing; or
- enforced its occupancy policies only against families with children.
Fair housing office class schedule
Fair Housing Seminars
This free training teaches you about legal rights and responsibilities under the Fair Housing Law. The course, conducted by a board-approved education provider, gives you the basic foundation of Fair Housing Law.