What should I know about discrimination in housing?

Authored By: GeorgiaLegalAid.org

Fair Housing Act

Rights under the Fair Housing Act in Georgia


What is the Fair Housing Act?

The Fair Housing Act is a federal law. It protects people from discrimination when they are: 

  • renting or applying to rent a home, 

  • buying a home, 

  • getting a mortgage, 

  • seeking housing assistance, or 

  • engaging in other housing-related activities. 

There is a federal Fair Housing Act and a Georgia Fair Housing Act. The Georgia Fair Housing Act provides the same protections as the federal law.  You can bring fair housing claims under either or both laws.


Who is protected?

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing because of:

  • Race

  • Color

  • National Origin

  • Religion

  • Sex

  • Familial Status (i.e., families with children)

  • Disability


What types of housing are covered?

The Fair Housing Act covers most housing. However, it may not cover: 

  • owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, 

  • single-family houses sold or rented by the owner without the use of an agent, and 

  • housing operated by religious organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members.

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What are my rights under the Fair Housing Act?

You have the right to be free from discrimination when: 

  • renting or applying to rent a home, 

  • buying a home, 

  • getting a mortgage, 

  • seeking housing assistance, or 

  • engaging in other housing-related activities. 


Discrimination can take many forms. 


It can be as direct as a refusal to rent. This might be because you are a person of color, disabled, of a certain religion, from another country, or because you have children. 


Discrimination can also be indirect. For example, your landlord might have a rule that doesn't seem discriminatory, but harms one group more than others. If the owner does not have a legitimate business reason for the rule, it may be discriminatory. 


Examples of discriminatory conduct include:

  • Landlords ignoring or refusing to grant reasonable accommodation requests for persons with disabilities.  

  • Landlords having a policy of excluding all applicants with any criminal history. Or a policy of excluding all applicants with a felony conviction, without considering the facts of the case.  These types of “blanket ban” policies harm people of color to a greater degree than they harm white people.

  • Landlords discouraging applicants in a protected class from renting or buying housing. For example, a landlord might not tell an African-American applicant about certain perks associated with the complex, but inform a white applicant.

  • Landlords imposing different terms and conditions on only some people.

  • Landlords steering applicants or tenants of a protected class to particular buildings or units.

  • Advertisements excluding certain people from the rental opportunity. For example, saying, "families with children need not apply."

  • Landlords telling only certain people that a unit is not available for rental when it is available.


What are my rights under the Fair Housing Act if I am disabled?

The Fair Housing Act says that people with disabilities be given reasonable accommodations. Landlords must give accomdoations when they are needed to give someone the equal opportunity to use and enjoy housing. You might need accommodations with:

  • rules, 

  • policies, 

  • practices, or 

  • services. 


You have the right to request reasonable accommodations from your landlord. “Reasonable” means that the accommodation cannot: 

  • impose an undue financial or administrative burden on the housing provider, and 

  • it cannot fundamentally alter the nature of the provider's operations. 


For example, it is unreasonable to ask the landlord to drive you to and from the grocery store, due to your mobility disability. The landlord is not in the business of providing transportation.

Examples of reasonable accommodations include: 

  • a landlord's waiving of a no pet rule for a tenant who needs to use a service or support animal, and 

  • reserving parking places close to accessible apartments for mobility impaired tenants.  

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What are my responsibilities?

If you believe you have faced discrimination in housing, you may file a complaint.  


If you are disabled and need reasonable accommodations, you have some extra responsibilities. 

  • If you need reasonable accommodations to live in a rental home, you must tell your landlord what accommodations you need and why you need them.  You may need to provide supporting documentation if requested by the landlord. But as a general rule, you are not required to provide medical records or detailed information about the nature of your disability. 

  • If modifications to the rental unit are required, you may be asked to pay for those modifications. This may not be true if you live in subsidized housing.

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What are my landlord’s rights under the Fair Housing Act?

Most of a landlord’s rights under the Fair Housing Act relate to family status or disability. 


  • Regarding family status: Landlords have the right to have reasonable occupancy standards. Often families are prevented from renting housing because the landlord limits the number of persons who can live in the unit. This is called an occupancy standard. Standards that leave out families with children or limit a family's access to housing may violate fair housing laws. The requirements must be reasonable. As a general rule, HUD says that a two people per bedroom rule is reasonable. However, you might still be able to show that this rule is unreasonable. HUD will consider factors, including:

    • The number and size of the sleeping areas

    • The overall size of the dwelling unit

    • The age of the children

    • The unit configuration

    • Limiting factors such as the capacity of the septic, sewer or other building systems, and

    • The existence of state or local occupancy requirements

  • Regarding accommodations for people with disabilities, a landlord has the right to:

    • require the tenant to arrange and pay for structural modifications. This is true unless that apartment receives certain federal housing assistance payments. 

    • refuse to make an accommodation that is not reasonable. For example, a repair that is highly costly or burdensome on the landlord’s business.

    • refuse to make an accommodation if there is no disability-related need for it. 

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What are my landlord’s responsibilities under the Fair Housing Act?

Basic accessibility for apartment complexes

Your landlord's apartment complexes meet basic accessibility standards. This is true if the building you live in was ready for first occupancy after March 13, 1991. Basic accessibility means the apartment complex must have the following features, among others:

  • An entrance to the building on an accessible route

  • Accessibility to public areas such as a lobby or swimming pool

  • A door wide enough to accommodate persons in wheelchairs

  • Accessibility to each unit (unless there is no elevator, in which case only all ground floor units must be accessible)

  • Sufficient reinforcement in bathroom walls to allow a tenant to install grab bars where needed

  • Light switches and other controls located low enough for use by a person in a wheelchair

  • Kitchens and bathrooms designed so that a wheelchair user can maneuver within the space

Modifications to the rental unit

A landlord cannot refuse to allow structural modifications that are:

  • needed due to a person’s disability  and 

  • that are reasonable. 

A landlord must allow a disabled tenant to make reasonable modifications or changes to the unit. These changes must be necessary to allow the disabled person to fully use the rental home.  


Modifications to common areas

The landlord must also allow reasonable modifications to common areas, such as a pool, to make the area accessible or usable. In most cases you won't have to return the common places to the original condition when you move. However, you may be required to restore your own unit to its original condition upon vacating the unit, if reasonable. 


Federally subsidized rental housing

If the apartment complex is federally subsidized, the landlord must  pay for the modifications. This does not apply to Section 8 vouchers.

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What can I do if a landlord has discriminated against me?

If you think a landlord has discriminated against you, you can file a complaint under either: 

  • the Federal Fair Housing Law or 

  • the State Fair Housing Law. 


Both federal and state law prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, or disability. "Familial status" means families with children. You may also wish to talk with an attorney.


To file a complaint under federal law, you should contact the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). You can:

  • Fill out a report online
  • Call HUD’s hotline number (800) 669-9777 for fair housing questions and complaints. If you are hearing impaired, you can call the TDD line (800) 927-9275.
  • Or, you can write to:

Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, 4E

U. S. Department of HUD

Fair Housing Hub

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Five Points Plaza

40 Marietta Street, 16th Floor

Atlanta, Georgia 30303-2806


To file a complaint under state law, or for information on State Fair Housing Law, you should contact the Fair Housing Division of the Commission on Equal Opportunity  at (404) 656-7708 or 1-800-473-OPEN. Or, you can write to:

Commission on Equal Opportunity

Fair Housing Division

710 International Tower

229 Peachtree Street, NE

Atlanta, Georgia 30303

Telephone: (404) 656-1736

Fax: (404) 656-4399

1-(800) 473-OPEN


There are also private agencies which help investigate allegations and prepare complaints. Although this agency is located in the Atlanta area, it will provide advice to persons in other parts of the state:

Metro Fair Housing Services

P. O. Box 91125

Atlanta, Georgia 30364-1125

(404) 765-3940

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 What happens after you file a complaint with HUD?

The agency investigating your complaint will try to reach an agreement with the person your complaint is against. If such an agreement can be reached, a conciliation agreement will be signed which must protect both you and the public. If an agreement is signed, HUD will take no further action on your complaint. 


If HUD has reasonable cause to believe your agreement is violated, HUD will recommend that the Attorney General file suit. If a conciliation agreement is not reached, the agency will continue investigating your complaint. If there is reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred, the agency will inform you.


Your case will be heard in an administrative hearing within 120 days. This is true unless you or the respondent want the case to be heard in Federal district court. Either way, there is no cost to you.

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What happens at the HUD administrative hearing?

If your case goes to an administrative hearing, HUD attorneys will litigate the case on your behalf. You may intervene in the case and be represented by your own attorney, if you wish. An administrative law judge will consider evidence from you and the respondent. 

If the judge decides that discrimination occurred, the respondent can be ordered:

  • To compensate you for actual damages, including humiliation, pain, and suffering.

  • To provide injunctive or other equitable relief, for example, to make the housing available to you.

  • To pay the Federal Government a civil penalty to vindicate the public interest. The maximum penalties are $10,000 for a first violation and $50,000 for a third violation within seven years.

  • To pay reasonable attorney's fees and costs.

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What happens if the federal district court decides my case?

If you or your landlord choose to have your case decided in Federal District Court, the Attorney General will file a suit and litigate it on your behalf. Or, you can get a private attorney to file your lawsuit and represent you in Federal court.  Like the administrative law judge, the District Court can order relief, and award actual damages, attorney's fees and costs.

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Tips & Terms



The Fair Housing Act defines a person with a disability as: 

  • A person with mental or physical impairments,

  • Which substantially limit one or more major life activities. 

Mental or physical impairment may include conditions such as:

  • blindness, 

  • hearing impairment, 

  • mobility impairment, 

  • HIV infection, 

  • mental retardation, 

  • alcoholism, 

  • drug addiction, 

  • chronic fatigue, 

  • learning disability, 

  • head injury, and 

  • mental illness.

Protection from discrimination includes people without a disabilty who are percieved as disabled.  


Discrimination for familial status 

Unless a building or community qualifies as housing for older persons, it may not discriminate based on familial status. It may not discriminate against families in which one or more children under 18 live with:

  • A parent

  • A person who has legal custody of the child or children or

  • The designee of the parent or legal custodian, with the parent or custodian's written permission

Familial status protection also applies to pregnant women and anyone securing legal custody of a child under 18. 

Housing for older persons is exempt from the prohibition against familial status discrimination if:

  • HUD has determined that the rental complex is specifically designed for and occupied by elderly persons under a Federal, State or local government program

  • It is occupied solely by persons who are 62 or older

  • It houses at least one person who is 55 or older in at least 80 percent of the occupied units, and adheres to a policy that demonstrates an intent to house persons who are 55 or older

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Last Review and Update: Jan 06, 2020
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