Immigrants are protected against harassment and discrimination under the Fair Housing Act regardless of immigration status. Here’s what you need to know about protecting yourself and your rights.
To some degree, you are likely familiar with the Fair Housing Act and understand that the right to housing that’s free from discrimination is a civil right. Since its original passing in 1968, the Fair Housing Act has made it illegal at both the federal and state levels for landlords, real estate agents, mortgage lenders, and the like to discriminate or make certain housing options unavailable to persons based on their race, color, national origin, religion, sexual identity/gender, marital status, age, familial status (such as if children are living with them), and/or due to any disability.
All unfair, unjustified efforts of any of these entities to block your right to fair housing is called housing discrimination. It is our mission at the Central Alabama Fair Housing Center, as well as government organizations like the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, to combat such discrimination.
But how does Fair Housing apply to immigrants? Do the same protections apply or are there special limitations? Here’s what you need to know.
Fair Housing Rights and Immigration
All individuals are covered by the federal Fair Housing Act protections regardless of immigration status. In the state of Alabama, those following legal immigration practices are also fully protected under the Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act. Various states have their own laws in place. At the local level, various municipalities might have their own protections in place, as well, to better serve and regulate the climate of fair housing.
Fair Housing Rights are human rights and, again, they protect individuals against housing discrimination based on several characteristics (race, color, disability, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, age, sex, marital status, family status, etc.). Discrimination based on any of these characteristics is illegal regardless of a victim’s immigration status and cannot be used to justify housing discrimination to any degree.
To cite illegal discrimination using a victim’s immigration status as the catalyst, here are a few examples:
- If an apartment management office requests a larger security deposit or monthly rent from you because of your race, that’s illegal housing discrimination regardless of your immigration status.
- If a realtor guides you toward or away from certain neighborhoods or areas based on your race, that’s illegal housing discrimination regardless of your immigration status.
- If a housing manager requires a larger down payment on a home because of your national origin, that’s illegal housing discrimination regardless of your immigration status.
It’s important to recognize that the Fair Housing Act and fair housing laws protect immigrants, refugees, and people of all religious faiths. You can find a more complete list of those protected from discrimination here. Now, let’s get a better understanding of the various types of discrimination often related to immigration so you might know what to look out for.
What’s Discrimination Based on Race or National Origin?
Race refers to whether a person is White, African American, Asian, Pacific Islander, another ethnicity, or a combination of any such groups. Under the Fair Housing Act, someone’s national origin refers to their birthplace or ancestry, such as a person who identifies as Latino(a), Hispanic, or from another country/region of the world.
The Fair Housing Act deems it illegal for housing providers to treat anyone differently because of their actual OR perceived race; because of their national origin; because the person is multiracial; or if the person is in a relationship with someone of a different race/national origin.
It’s also illegal for housing providers to discriminate against current or prospective tenants because they associate with people of a particular race or origin. This means that people involved in renting or selling homes cannot:
- Refuse to rent to you because you or your family members do not speak English
- Demand you speak English when inside/outside of your apartment or on the property
- Force you to choose a home near other people who are from the same country, belong to the same race, or speak the same language as you
What’s Discrimination Based on Color?
Color refers to the visible color of a person’s skin. Under the Fair Housing Act, it’s illegal for housing providers to treat someone differently because of the color of their skin, regardless of what that person might look like.
Color discrimination can involve someone of a different race or the same race. For example, if a landlord or other housing provider only rented to light-skinned African Americans, but not those who are darker-skinned, that would be an example of color discrimination, regardless of the race of the landlord.
What’s Discrimination Based on Religion?
Religion (or creed) discrimination is when you are treated differently in housing because of your religion or system(s) of belief, principles, or opinions. With certain limited exceptions, this is illegal under the Fair Housing Act. Housing providers are not permitted to ask about your religion and cannot deny housing to anyone based on their perceived or actual religion or creed.
This means that anyone involved in renting or selling homes cannot:
- Refuse to rent to you because you are an immigrant or refugee, or because you follow a certain religious faith
- Refuse to show you a home, apartment, or homes in a particular community due to your religious faith
- Charge you higher rent because of your religion
- Require you to get a cosigner because you are an immigrant, refugee, or because of your religion
What to Do If You are a Victim of Housing Discrimination
It’s illegal for a landlord or real estate agent to ask you to identify your religion. Furthermore, it’s also illegal for any type of housing agent to ask you questions about your immigration status because of how you look, talk, or dress.
During the process of searching for a new home, some landlords, property owners, or real estate agents might ask if you are in the country legally or request to see your green card or visa. If you think that you are being asked about your immigration status because of where you are from (or in relation to your race, skin color, religious affiliation, etc.), call your local fair housing council or contact HUD. Help is always available.