Although U.S. laws prohibit housing discrimination, it continues. According to the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), the country recorded 31,216 housing discrimination complaints in 2021. Those related to rental housing made up the highest percentage, totaling 25,501.

Rental housing discrimination occurs when someone is mistreated because of their race, national origin, color, religion, sex, gender identity, disability or familial status. In most cases, discrimination isn’t explicit. For example, a landlord may refuse to show applicants listings in specific communities or push members of minority groups to certain neighborhoods. Or, they may delay necessary repairs for some tenants but address other renters’ issues immediately. The subtlety of most acts of discrimination makes the problem even more challenging to eradicate.

According to the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), the country recorded 31,216 housing discrimination complaints in 2021. Those related to rental housing made up the highest percentage, totaling 25,501. Understanding the laws, recognizing different forms of discrimination and knowing how to address the issue adequately can help you protect yourself and advocate against rental housing discrimination.


What Is Rental Housing Discrimination?

Rental housing discrimination refers to circumstances where a renter experiences unfair treatment because of their race, national origin, color, religion, sex, gender identity, disability or familial status. Under the Fair Housing Act, housing providers are prohibited from engaging in discriminatory acts. A landlord or property manager proven to have conducted discriminatory behavior against a tenant or possible house or apartment renter may face consequences, including payment for damages, compensation and civil penalties. The affected tenant or prospective tenant may also file a case in court.

Top Rental Discrimination Complaints in 2021

According to the NFHA’s Fair Housing Trends Report, rental-related complaints in 2021 totaled 25,501. This was 81.69% of all housing discrimination complaints recorded across different reporting agencies. There were also 4,641 more complaints in 2021 than in 2020, which the NFHA attributes to higher demand and lower supply as the country continued to experience the effects of the global pandemic.

The Fair Housing Act (FHA)

The FHA was signed into law in 1968. It provides a set of guidelines to protect homeowners and renters. It prohibits discrimination in housing because of race, national origin, color and religion. The law applies to any entity accessing housing, including landlords, property owners and managers, insurance providers and mortgage lenders. The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 expanded protections against discrimination based on familial status and disability. In 2021, President Joseph Biden, Jr. released an executive order to further the protections of the FHA on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Who Is Protected Under the Fair Housing Act?

To combat rental housing discrimination, entities or individuals involved in acquiring housing are prohibited from treating renters or prospective tenants differently on the basis of the following eight characteristics:

  • Color
  • Disability
  • Gender identity
  • Familial status
  • National origin
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation

Depending on the state and locality, there may be other protected classes and prohibitions such as age, source of income and criminal history.

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The FHA covers most housing types, including single- and multi-family should be granted equal housing opportunity homes. That means renters, especially those of protected classes.

Exempted Property Types from the FHA

In certain circumstances, the FHA doesn’t cover rental housing. If a landlord or property owner has any exempted property types, they’re not covered by the FHA.


Types of Housing Discrimination

The FHA defines housing discrimination as any act of unfair treatment due to an individual’s race, national origin, color, religion, sex, gender identity, disability or familial status. In 2021, disability was the top basis of housing discrimination. There were 16,758 recorded complaints of discrimination against people with disability in 2021.

There are different types of housing discrimination. In most cases, it happens on multiple bases at the same time.

Housing Discrimination Complaints by Basis in 2021


The basis of housing discrimination may vary, but disability-related complaints topped the list in 2021. They made up 53.68% of all cases. According to the NFHA, disability-related discrimination is often easier to detect because it often comes in overt denial of requests for reasonable accommodations and housing modifications. Race is the second most reported basis of discrimination, with 5,922 complaints or 18.97% of all cases. This is an increase from 2020, when race-based reports made up 16.79% of complaints.

The different forms of discrimination can be categorized into significant bases.



The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. It ensures that a person with a disability, whether physical or mental, has access to the same opportunities as everyone. In 2021, there were 16,758 disability-related housing discrimination complaints.


Familial Status

Discrimination based on familial status typically includes refusing to rent housing, charging higher rents and deposits, making threats or commenting about a family. In most cases, it involves families with children. Agencies across the country received a total of 2,261 complaints of housing discrimination based on familial status in 2021.


National Origin

Housing discrimination against people of certain nationalities, ethnicities or backgrounds is also illegal. This may range from refusing rent, imposing different terms and conditions and making assumptions about character based on national origin. In the U.S., national origin is the fifth most common basis of housing discrimination. In 2021, there were 1,774 related complaints.


Race or color

Various laws were enacted to prohibit racial discrimination, including employment, credit, disaster relief, emergency assistance and voting rights. For renters and prospective homeowners, the FHA protects against housing discrimination. Despite this, there were 5,822 race-related complaints in 2021 and 734 reports of discrimination because of color.



Under the FHA, landlords can’t refuse rent or services to individuals because of their religion. However, this issue continues to affect many individuals. Around 1.22% or 382 housing discrimination complaints in 2021 were based on religion.



The expansion of the FHA in 2021 includes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Sadly, thousands of gender-based discrimination incidents are still reported. In 2021, 2,309 or 7.4% of all housing discrimination complaints were based on sexual orientation and gender identity.


Examples of Rental Housing Discrimination

The FHA establishes guidelines that landlords, property managers and owners must follow, aiming to prevent discrimination against members of protected classes. However, eradicating housing discrimination remains challenging as it may not always be as overt as refusing to rent properties to minority groups. It may be subtle when it occurs. That said, knowing some of the common examples of rental discrimination can help you understand what to watch out for.

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Landlords and property managers can create guidelines, rules and policies for their rental properties to ensure the safety, security and comfort of their renters. For instance, landlords can reject a potential tenant if they don’t have enough income to pay the rent. They may also check the tenant’s credit history and prior bankruptcies to ensure the financial capability to afford the rent. They may also have policies involving pet ownership and smoking. If the prospective tenant provides false information during the screening process, the landlord may reject their rental application.


How to Fight Rental Housing Discrimination

Understanding renters’ rights, responsibilities and protections can help you recognize rental discrimination. Knowing the first steps to consider after experiencing discrimination allows you to fight for your rights.

Depending on your desired outcomes, you can file a complaint in a relevant agency like the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or pursue legal action against the person who exhibited discriminatory behavior towards you.

Gathering Evidence of Housing Discrimination

If you think you’ve been a victim of rental discrimination, you can file a complaint or take legal action against the involved party. However, you must ensure you have enough evidence to support your case. This is especially necessary for cases of subtle discrimination. You can start by recording the incident, collecting relevant documents and talking to witnesses.


Collect documents

Documentary evidence can include your description of the incident and witnesses’ version of events. You can also use letters, emails and text messages. Check for social media posts or messages that show the landlord threatening or harassing you. If you have a copy of the rental housing policies, it would also help to review the terms and conditions.


Record the incident and all relevant details

Remember as much as possible about the incident. Note the names of people involved, when and where it happened, the basis of discrimination and any other detail you can think of, like statements and language use.


Talk to witnesses

Determine if someone heard or saw what happened. Ask them about their version of events. If it confirms your complaint, ask if they can give their name and a formal witness statement to support your case.

Filing a Rental Housing Discrimination Complaint

Filing a formal discrimination complaint requires completing a few steps. You can contact a local agency overseeing fair housing laws in your area or file with the HUD’s Fair Housing Equal Opportunity (FHEO) Office. Victims may also choose to pursue legal action. Remember, federal complaints should be filed with the HUD FHEO office within a year after the discrimination incident. The statute of limitations for states and localities may vary.


Identify the appropriate agency

The first step you should take is to determine where to file the complaint. Check if your area is under the jurisdiction of a state or local fair housing agency. You can also find fair housing centers that can help you by providing your city, state or zip code in the NFHA’s search tool. You may need to file with the HUD FHEO Office in some states.


Contact the agency

Reach out to the agency. Tell them about your complaint and ask for all documents you must submit.


Fill out the complaint form

Get a copy of the complaint form. Provide all necessary information.


Submit supporting documents

Gather necessary documents and evidence. Then, submit them and the complaint form to the agency in charge. The agency will investigate once they receive your case.


Follow up on the complaint

The investigation length may vary per state or locality. You can contact them to follow up on your complaint. If you file with the HUD, you can expect the FHEO Office to investigate within 100 days of the filing date. Once the investigation is done, they’ll determine whether there’s reasonable cause to believe that discrimination happened.

Where to Report Rental Discriminations

The process of filing a rental housing discrimination complaint may vary widely per state. Click on your state to find agencies offering housing assistance in your area. Note that Alabama, Nevada and Mississippi don’t participate in the FHAP. If you reside in these states, please file your complaint with the HUD.


Find a Legal Aid for Victims of Discrimination

Victims of discrimination may also file a lawsuit against the involved person or entity within two years of the alleged action. Seeking the help of a legal professional can help you prepare your case. They can evaluate your case and determine the strength of your case. Even if you decide not to pursue legal action, a lawyer can still guide you on getting help and support.

What You Can Do to Promote and Advance Fair Housing

There’s work to be done when it comes to fighting rental housing discrimination. But individuals can participate in advancing fair housing. Whether you’re a tenant or landlord, you can advocate for the cause and help promote equal opportunities across all groups, classes and sectors. You can start by checking out programs promoting fair housing, like the National Fair Housing Alliance, which offers resources and education programs.


Additional Resources

Many resources are available to help renters understand their rights and fulfill their responsibilities. MoneyGeek created a list of relevant resources you may find helpful.

  • 211: Get help paying your bills, including housing and utilities expenses. Access resources assisting renters.
  • Check if you qualify for the Housing Counseling Assistance Program. Contact a local or national housing counselor for guidance on accessing affordable housing.
  • Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Find a local rental assistance program to help with housing costs.
  • Disability Rights California: Find out what the Housing Choice Voucher Program is. Learn more about disability discrimination, accommodation rights and how to file complaints.
  • Fair Housing Initiatives Program: Know what the Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP) is and how FHIP organizations can help handle housing discrimination complaints.
  • Federal Trade Commission: Find out about different rental scams, signs to look for and how to report suspected scams.
  • National Association of Realtors: Find videos, publications and other online resources related to fair housing.
  • National Council of State Housing Agencies: Click on your state and find state housing finance agencies that offer financing to help achieve affordable housing. You can also check emergency rental assistance programs by state.
  • National Housing Law Project: Access resources to learn more about different laws affecting tenants. Including the FHA. Locate state, local and national housing agencies.
  • Office for Access to Justice: If you decide to take legal action against a person or entity because of rental housing discrimination, you can find free legal assistance from volunteers, nonprofits, law schools, court-based services and online technologies.
  • Learn about tenant rights and how to handle a dispute with a landlord. Find free and low-cost legal aid to help review your case.

About Nathan Paulus

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Nathan Paulus is the Head of Content Marketing at MoneyGeek, with nearly 10 years of experience researching and creating content related to personal finance and financial literacy.

Paulus has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of St. Thomas, Houston. He enjoys helping people from all walks of life build stronger financial foundations.