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Housing Discrimination Laws 

Allegheny Attorneys at Law, P.C. Jan. 8, 2023

An Analysis of Impediments (AI) to fair housing released in 2018 by the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED) found that, though there is “heightened awareness of public housing rights” and “fewer incidents of discrimination,” discrimination against people with disabilities who seek accommodations is a “rising area of fair housing complaints.”  

Overall, the AI cited as an impediment the fact that “inadequate information on fair housing issues continues to adversely affect community attitudes toward the planning and siting of facilities for special populations of people.”  

Both federal and state statutes forbid discrimination in housing. The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) protects against unlawful discrimination based on race, color, sex, familial status, religious creed, ancestry, age, national origin, handicap or disability, use of guide support animal because of blindness, deafness, or physical handicap of the user, or because the user is a handler or trainer of support or guide animals. The PHRA extends to housing discrimination as well.  

Federally, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 builds upon the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in prohibiting housing discrimination against protected groups – those based on race, national origin, religion, sex, pregnancy, age, genetic characteristics, and other categories. The Fair Housing Act forbids states and localities from receiving federal program funds unless they proactively promote fair and equal housing opportunities. 

If you have been discriminated against in seeking rentals or housing in or around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, or if you’re a landlord or property owner accused of discrimination, contact me immediately at Marc V. Taiani, Esquire and Allegheny Attorneys at Law, P.C. I am an experienced real estate and landlord-tenant attorney who can examine the situation, advise you of your rights and obligations, and help you resolve the situation.   

Marc V. Taiani, Esquire and Allegheny Attorneys at Law, P.C. also proudly serves clients through the rest of Allegheny County and surrounding areas, including Butler County, Westmoreland County, Beaver County, Armstrong County, and Washington County. 

Examples of Discrimination 

Blatant discrimination obviously involves refusing to rent or sell to individuals based on one of the protected characteristics discussed above. However, actual practices may be more subtle. For instance, a rental unit may have five or more applicants, whom the landlord assures have equal opportunity, but in the end, the winning applicant is someone the landlord feels fits the mold of the tenant he or she prefers. 

The Civil Rights Enforcement Division of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office lists these as examples of problems they’re dealt with:  

  • A landlord’s advertisements for a vacancy imply children aren’t welcome. 

  • A landlord repeatedly refuses to allow disabled lessees to make needed modifications to their units at their own expense. 

  • A real estate agent requires minority groups to pre-qualify for a loan before providing listings or conducting home tours. 

  • A real estate agent directs minorities to communities where they make up a higher percentage of the population, while directing white buyers to predominantly white neighborhoods. 

In addition, the Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from taking any of these actions, among others: 

  • Falsely denying that a rental unit is available  

  • Advertising that subtly indicates a certain race is preferred 

  • Setting higher income qualification standards for some over others 

  • Establishing different terms for some tenants over others 

What to Do If You’re Discriminated Against 

On the federal level, if you have been discriminated against in housing, you can file a complaint with the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO), a wing of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). FHEO may investigate and try to reach an agreement with the landlord. They may also refer the complaint to the U.S. Attorney General to file a lawsuit. 

On the state level, you can report acts of discrimination to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC), which will also investigate toward finding a solution. For both agencies, federal and state, you are required under most circumstances to report the discriminatory act within 180 days of its occurrence. 

Fortunately, unlike an employment complaint, which requires that you file with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to get permission to commence a lawsuit, housing discrimination issues can be taken directly to court without first filing a charge with FHEO or PHRC. 

You can file your suit in either state or federal court. If you prevail, your landlord may be forced to pay damages, which might include the return of any higher rent that you had to pay, an order directing the landlord to rent you the unit for which you were originally turned down, or even awarding compensation for humiliation or emotional distress. 

Landlords Cannot Retaliate 

Federal and state laws also prohibit landlords from retaliating against someone who files a complaint with the FHEO or the PHRC. For instance, your landlord may suddenly award your parking spot to someone else, delay needed repairs that you’ve requested, give you a rent increase that is not shared by other tenants, or even refuse to renew your lease when the time comes. 

If you do suffer retaliation, speak with an attorney. Sometimes retaliation is more annoying than it is harmful, so pursuing a court case may not be worth the time and money, even if it’s just a small claims court action. 

Legal Advocacy You Can Depend On 

Whatever your status, tenant or landlord, the issues of discrimination and retaliation can loom large. Rather than trying to resolve thorny issues on your own, though you certainly should speak out and voice your concerns, your best course is to rely on the advice and guidance of an experienced landlord-tenant and real estate attorney.  

If you’re located in the Pittsburgh area or in the surrounding areas, reach out immediately to me at Marc V. Taiani, Esquire and Allegheny Attorneys at Law, P.C. I will listen to your story, assess the situation, and advise you of your best options going forward. Don’t let matters drag out until everyone digs in their heels, but act quickly and decisively in enlisting legal assistance.