Say you’re a college student looking for an apartment to rent. You see an ad for a duplex and make the call, thrilled to find out that the apartment is still up for grabs. When you show up to look at the apartment, though, you’re told that it’s not available.
Bad luck, or discrimination? Ranesha Halliburton thought the latter. She even tested her theory and had a white friend look at the apartment she wanted, posing as a renter. According to testimony in Halliburton’s discrimination suit, the landlady said to the white friend, “I will keep that unit vacant or move in myself before renting to blacks.”
I’d like to tell you that this is a centuries-old—or even decades-old—story, but this happened in 2007. The Minneapolis-area story is in the news now because the landlady just settled, agreeing to pay Halliburton $25,500.
When it comes to housing discrimination, you should:
1. Know Your Rights.
It’s illegal to refuse to sell or rent to someone based on race – or for any number of other reasons, for that matter. You can’t be discriminated against because of your:
• National origin
• Family status (such as whether you are pregnant or have kids)
That’s just the federal law – your state or city may have additional protections. In New York City, for example, you can’t be discriminated against because of your occupation (landlords often wouldn’t rent to lawyers, out of fear that they’d be sued) or because you’re homosexual.
2. Know That There Are Possible Exemptions.
Most of the little exemptions to these categories are in the realm of common sense. Two of note are: A landlady who is renting out half her house may reasonably request a female renter instead of a male one, and the landlord of a hundred-year-old property doesn’t necessarily have to install an elevator to accommodate a wheelchair. In general, though, there’s no reason for you to have to take housing discrimination without a fight.
3. Take Action.
If you think your rights have been violated, make a complaint. The HUD website notes that someone who is convicted of discrimination can be fined up to $16,000 for a first violation and up to $65,000 for a third. I think it makes the most sense to complain twice, once to the Department of Housing and Urban Development and once to your local municipality. Here’s a link to file a complaint with HUD.