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Housing Discrimination

Produced by Amy Romero and Maureen St. Cyr
Reviewed May 2017

Is It Discrimination

Housing discrimination takes many forms:

  • A real estate agent shows you apartments in one neighborhood and not another because of your race.
  • A landlord refuses to rent to you because you have a Section 8 voucher
  • A landlord makes an inappropriate comment about your gender, ethnicity, religion or disability.
  • You have young children and a landlord tells you she cannot rent to you because the apartment has lead paint.

Protect Yourself When Looking for an Apartment

  • Do not ask if a landlord takes Section 8 or allows children. Assume the landlord will follow the law.
  • Ask to see all available apartments – even if the landlord says an apartment is too small or has lead paint.
  • If the landlord will not rent to you, ask for a specific reason.

Who Is Protected

Laws that protect against discrimination are called fair housing laws.

Fair housing laws protect you if a landlord, her employee, or a real estate broker discriminates against you because of your:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National Origin or Ancestry
  • Gender
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Gender Identity
  • Religion
  • Age – as long as you are 18 or over

Or because you:

  • Are pregnant or have a child
  • Get welfare, SSI or other benefits
  • Have a Section 8 or housing subsidy
  • Are married or not married
  • Are or were in the military
  • Have a physical or mental disability

Is the Property Covered

No landlord of any size building can discriminate based on race, receipt of public assistance, or receipt of a housing subsidy. But for other types of discrimination:

  • State fair housing laws do not cover buildings with only 2 apartments if the landlord lives there.
  • Federal fair housing laws do not cover buildings with 4 apartments or less if the landlord lives there.

Act Quickly!

  1. Write down the facts.

    Your notes may be your best evidence. Write everything down as soon as you can!

    Your Notes

    Date and time of the discrimination.

    Name and title of the person who discriminated against you.

    What you said.

    Everything the other person said.

  2. “Test” the landlord.

    Ask a testing agency to help you find out if a landlord is discriminating. Contact one of these agencies the same day you have the problem.

    If you cannot get help from an agency, do your own test. For example, if you feel the landlord discriminated against you because you have a child, ask someone without a child to look at the same apartment. Then make detailed notes about what happens.

  3. Get help from a lawyer.

    A lawyer can advise you and help you file a complaint.

  4. File a complaint.

    See File a Discrimination Complaint for how to file a complaint.

Testing Agencies

Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston
Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth, and Suffolk Counties

Massachusetts Fair Housing Center
Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire Counties

Community Legal Aid
Worcester County

See A Massachusetts Attorney General's Office PDF booklet about income discrimination.

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

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