Discrimination in housing: what it is and how to identify it

Have you ever been denied an apartment or rental and was never told why? Did you suspect that there could have been a discriminatory reason behind it but you weren’t sure what your rights were? Many people are unaware that they have been the victims of housing discrimination. Thousands of instances of housing discrimination happen each year, but few are reported. Let’s take a look at what housing discrimination is and how the law protects you against it.

What is discrimination in housing?

Discrimination in housing occurs during the process of renting, buying, selling or attempting to get a home loan. It can also occur in commercial transactions for property. Both state and federal law prohibit discrimination in this process based on the following characteristics, plus a few more not mention below:

  • Race
  • Sex
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Age
  • Pregnancy
  • Disability
  • Familial status

Examples of what housing discrimination looks like:

  • Refusing to rent to a family with children under 18
  • Refusing to rent or sell to someone based on their race, religion or skin color
  • Targeting a particular group for unfavorable home loans or deceptive lending practices
  • A landlord refusing accessible parking or otherwise denying access to people with a handicap or disability
  • Housing advertisements that express a preference for people of a certain race, sex, or religion
  • Making reference to the composition of a neighborhood in which a property is listed in order to discourage a home purchase
  • Treating one tenant less favorably than others in terms of rental or maintaining property
  • Harassment by a landlord based on race, sex or religion

What to do if you are the victim of such discrimination:

  • Take the name and address of the person your complaint is against
  • Get the address of the housing involved
  • Write down a short description of the event that caused you to believe your rights are being violated
  • Take down the dates of the alleged violation
  • Contact a local attorney or housing agency that can assist you


Discrimination in housing is far more common than people think. If you are denied housing and you believe that it may be on the basis of your race, sex or religion there are ways for you to seek recourse. Federal and state law prohibits discrimination in housing based on these characteristics. So record the information that would be pertinent to your claim and contact a local attorney with knowledge in the field. [1]

[1] Housing and Commercial Property Discrimination, Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (2014)