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Fair Housing - How to Deal with Discrimination

Published: September 27, 2012

Sometimes immigrants, refugees, and others are the victims of discrimination. If you have experienced discrimination or know of someone who has, here are some good things to know.


There are two main federal laws designed to protect people’s rights to housing and prohibit housing discrimination: Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act (Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968). The Fair Housing Act protects people from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, disability or national origin. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) enforces this act. For more information on the Fair Housing Act and how to file a complaint, go to the HUD Fair Housing Web Site

The US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants has developed a handbook for refugees with disabilities. Included in this booklet is a chapter on fair housing and rights to accommodation for people with disabilities. Click here to access a PDF of the booklet.


The second law that protects people from discrimination in federally funded housing is Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This law protects residents of HUD-assisted properties from discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin.


The department of Justice is particularly concerned that discrimination on the basis of national origin often goes unreported. For this reason, they have formed the National Origin Working Group to help citizens and immigrants understand their legal rights. Two websites with excellent information in this regard are: www.usdoj.gov/crt/legalinfo/natorigin.htm and www.usdoj.gov/crt/cor/index.htm.


Federally Assisted Property. Under the welfare reform act (PRWORA) passed in 1999, only U.S. citizens and “eligible noncitizens” (which includes legal immigrants like refugees and asylees) may benefit from federal rental assistance. The HUD Handbook requires that all family members applying for federally-funded housing must declare their citizenship or immigration status. Owners are required to verify with the Department of Homeland Security the validity of documents provided by applicants, either electronically by access to the DHS verification system (Systematic Alien Verifications for Entitlements System or “SAVE”) or by submitting to DHS photocopies of the immigration documentation. The list of acceptable documents includes an I-94 stamped “Admitted as a Refugee” or with appropriate documentation for Asylee or Cuban/Haitian Entrant status.

Private Landlords. In January of 2003, HUD issued a memo which restated the Fair Housing non-discrimination requirements, but clarified that asking applicants to document their citizenship or immigration status does not violate the Fair Housing Act. “The Act does not prohibit discrimination based solely on a person’s citizenship status.” In other words, a non-citizen who cannot prove legal residency in the country can be rejected. However, these requirements must be applied in a non-discriminatory manner, i.e., different requirements cannot be placed on different nationalities.


Additionally, many states and local communities have passed anti-discrimination ordinances and statutes. Tenant’s rights vary greatly from state to state. To find state fair housing laws for your jurisdiction, go to www.fairhousinglaw.org, Click on “Local and State Laws” in the left column and select your state from the drop down menu.. Another place to look for information on fair housing laws in your state is the National Low Income Housing Coalition. This website provides local contacts in your state and community for housing advocacy organizations.


Please contact us at refugeehouseinfo@mercyhousing.org if you need additional information or help.