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A Glossary of Discriminatory Practices in Real Estate

Oct 8 2020

This post is part of our ongoing series on the relationship between racism and homeownership.

Following the death of George Floyd last spring and the work of the Black Lives Matter movement, we are all learning more about systems of oppression and how to fight them. Unfortunately, housing discrimination still occurs, despite the protections of the Fair Housing Act, which was implemented in 1968 and was strengthened through an amendment in 1988. 

The Fair Housing Act specifies six “protected classes” – groups of people who are protected from discrimination by law, based on characteristics including:

  • Race or color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Disability or handicap, including physical and mental impairment
  • Sex
  • Familial status (such as people with children under age 18 and pregnant women)​

​Some states and cities extend protection to additional classes through local laws.

Owners, brokers, managers, or anyone else who rents or sells homes cannot refuse to sell, rent or negotiate with you because you’re a member of a protected class. They cannot treat members of a protected class differently than anyone else.

If you want to get out there and fight the good fight, or just protect yourself from unfair treatment, it helps to know what types of bad behavior to keep an eye out for.  

Refer to our glossary of discriminatory housing practices below: 

Harassment: Homebuyers and renters are protected from harassing conduct under the Fair Housing Act. Harassment can take many forms. It includes actions that create a hostile environment that interferes with your ability to live comfortably It also includes extortion of money, sex, or other requests in exchange for access to housing.

Inaccessibility: Under the Fair Housing Act, it is illegal to deny housing to or make it inaccessible for people with disabilities. Landlords and other property managers must also make reasonable accommodations, such as allowing a seeing-eye dog in a building that normally doesn’t allow pets, for residents who have disabilities.

Mortgage lending discrimination: When mortgage lenders and insurance agents provide fewer and/or lower quality loans to buyers due to characteristics such as their race, age, or ethnicity. 

Racially restrictive covenants: Contractual agreements that prohibit the purchase, lease, or occupation of a home by a specified group of people.  

Redlining: A discriminatory business practice by which financial institutions limit the availability of mortgages and other products based on the characteristics of a neighborhood and the people that live there (particularly their race and ethnicity), rather than the creditworthiness of the individual borrower and quality of the property.

Redlining was legal in the United States before 1968. In the 1930s, the federal government adopted maps that color-coded and labeled neighborhoods on a scale from Type A, or Best (Green), to Type D, or Hazardous (Red). Residents in Type C and D neighborhoods were populated with mostly Black and immigrant residents. It became difficult, if not impossible, to receive mortgages for homes in neighborhoods rated C or D.

Steering: The practice of guiding homebuyers into communities already populated by residents who share their characteristics, such as race or ethnicity. Steering in real estate can be implemented in several ways, including when brokers provide fewer sales listings to minority buyers and/or only show them listings in certain areas.

Want to learn more? Whether you’re a homebuyer or a homeowner, these posts may interest you:


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