Housing and Civil Enforcement Section
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Fair Housing Act?
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, or disability by housing providers, such as landlords and real estate companies as well as other entities, such as municipalities, banks or other lending institutions, and homeowners insurance companies.
Under the Fair Housing Act, the Department of Justice may start a lawsuit where it has reason to believe that a person or entity is engaged in a "pattern or practice" of discrimination or where a denial of rights to a group of persons raises an issue of general public importance. Through these lawsuits, the Department can obtain money damages, both actual and punitive damages, for those individuals harmed by a defendant's discriminatory actions as well as preventing any further discriminatory conduct. The defendant may also be required to pay money penalties to the United States. If you have information that suggests a pattern or practice of discrimination in housing, please contact us.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD] investigates individual cases of discrimination in housing. If HUD determines that reasonable cause exists to believe that a discriminatory housing practice has occurred, then either the complainant or the respondent (the person against whom the complaint was filed) may elect to have the case heard in federal court. In those instances, the Department of Justice will bring the case on behalf of the individual complainant.
In addition, where force or a threat of force is used to deny or interfere with fair housing rights, the Department of Justice may begin criminal proceedings.
Finally, in cases involving discrimination in home mortgage loans or home improvement loans, the Department may file suit under both the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.
Individuals who believe that they have been victims of an illegal housing practice may file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD] or file their own lawsuit in federal or state court. You must file the complaint with HUD within one year of the incident you believe to be housing discrimination. If you choose to file your own lawsuit in federal or state court, the Act requires that you do so within two years of the incident.
When sexual orientation is the only basis of discrimination, no. However, we evaluate these complaints on a case-by-case basis to determine whether any other form of discrimination is present (such as sex or disability, for example). In addition, many state and local laws prohibit discrimination in housing based on sexual orientation. You should consult with your local or state civil rights enforcement agency to determine whether discrimination on this basis is protected.
Under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, a creditor may not discriminate on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, national origin, marital status, age, or source of income in any credit transaction.
The Department of Justice may start a lawsuit where it has reason to believe that a creditor is engaged in a "pattern or practice" of discrimination. Through these lawsuits, the Department can obtain money damages, both actual and punitive damages, for those individuals harmed by a defendant's discriminatory actions as well as preventing further discrimination by the defendant. Each year, the Department files a report with Congress on its activities under the statute. If you have information that suggests a pattern or practice of discrimination in credit, please contact us.
Individual complaints of discrimination are handled by the creditor's federal regulatory agency. The agencies and the types of financial institutions that they regulate are as follows:
Office of Thrift Supervision [OTS]: Savings associations and federally chartered savings banks (the word "Federal" or the initials "F.S.B." appear in federal institution's name).
Comptroller of Currency [OCC]: National banks, federal branches/agencies of foreign banks (the word "National" or the initials "N.A." appear in or after the bank's name).
Federal Reserve Board [FRB]: Financial institutions that are members of the Federal Reserve System, except national banks and federal branches/agencies of foreign banks.
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation [FDIC]: State chartered banks that are not members of the Federal Reserve System.
National Credit Union Association [NCUA]: Federal credit unions (the words "Federal credit union" appear in the institution's name).
Federal Trade Commission [FTC]: Retailers, finance companies, creditors (including most mortgage companies) that are not assigned to another agency.
Individuals who believe that they have been victims of an illegal housing practice, such as the denial of a mortgage, that involved credit may file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD].
This law prohibits discrimination because of a person's race, color, religion, or national origin in certain places of public accommodation, such as hotels, restaurants, and places of entertainment.
When there is reason to believe that a person or entity has engaged in a "pattern or practice" of discrimination, which violates Title II, the Department of Justice can bring a lawsuit. However, unlike lawsuits enforcing the Fair Housing Act or the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Department can not obtain monetary damages for individuals in Title II cases. If you have information that suggests a pattern or practice of discrimination in public accomodations, please contact us.
Individuals who believe that a place of public accommodation has violated Title II may file their own lawsuit in federal court. In addition, you may have some rights under other federal laws, state laws, or local ordinances and should consult with your local or state civil rights enforcement agency.
This law prohibits local governments from adopting or enforcing land use regulations that discriminate against religious assemblies and institutions or which unjustifiably burden religious exercise (for additional information, please see the Housing & Civil Enforcement Section's page on RLUIPA).
The Department can investigate and bring suit to enforce the statute on behalf of individuals, houses of worship or other religious institutions. The Department may obtain injunctive, but not monetary relief. Individuals may file their own lawsuit in federal or state court. If you believe your rights against discriminatory or unjustifiably burdensome zoning and landmarking laws have been violated please contact us.