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How to recognize real estate discrimination

On Behalf of | Mar 9, 2023 | Real Estate Litigation

Although housing discrimination still occurs in California and throughout the rest of the country, the federal government harshly punishes proven offenders. Here is a summary of the federal Fair Housing Act.

Protected classes

The Fair Housing Act, enacted in 1968, prohibits residential real estate discrimination by landlords, sellers, agents and lenders against protected class members. These classes include:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • National Origin
  • Sex
  • Disability
  • Familial status

Violators may face a maximum fine of $11,000 for the first offense and $27,500 if it happens again. Individual cities, counties and states may impose additional restrictions, which are grounds for anti-discriminatory real estate litigation.


Steering is the practice, adopted by some real estate agents, of showing prospective buyers or tenants only those neighborhoods that conform to their ethnic, racial or religious characteristics. The Fair Housing Act promotes diversity and prohibits agents from limiting the number of protected class households in a particular neighborhood. Prospective buyers and tenants have the right to see all the listings that meet their criteria.


It is illegal to mention features in a real estate advertisement that might indicate a preference for particular members of a protected class at the expense of others. For example, an ad cannot state that a property is n a family-friendly neighborhood within walking distance of a synagogue. This wording violates the rights of three classes: familial status, disability and religion. A single, paralyzed atheist might feel unwanted. Some activists scan listings for violations in order to report the agent to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD responds to Fair Housing Act violations and levies fines.


Redlining is a lending practice that bases the terms of a loan on the zip code or neighborhood. These are predominately minority neighborhoods. It got its name from a previously legal banking practice of drawing a red line on a map around the areas where they chose not to conduct business.

If you feel you are the victim of housing discrimination, contact your regional HUD office. In steering cases, they may send in undercover investigators to interact as buyers with your named violator.