The Fair Housing Act is a law that prohibits any housing providers, including landlords, sellers, and loan providers, from discriminating against individuals who seek housing opportunities. The law aims to provide equal opportunities to individuals searching for a residence, be it through buying, renting, or looking for a method of financing.

The Fair Housing Act also protects individuals from any form of discrimination when applying for community development funds or housing assistance, applying for mortgage lending, or appraising their properties. This law also applies to those who are listing their real estate property on listing services or platforms.

What Is the Federal Fair Housing Act?

The federal Fair Housing Act in the United States protects home buyers, renters, and borrowers from any discriminatory practices in housing. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) oversees fair housing in the country, making sure every American has fair access to housing opportunities. 

In the United States, the federal Fair Housing Act prohibits any form of discrimination based on circumstances that individuals cannot control. These are the seven protected classes in the U.S.:

  • Race

U.S. housing providers are prohibited from discriminating based on race. It’s illegal to deliberately exclude a certain race from applying for a rental property, such as on marketing materials. Asking for an applicant’s race on application forms and/or making a decision based on a potential tenant’s race also goes against the Fair Housing Act.

Person sitting at their desk, on a computer, drinking out of a mug and petting their dog

  • National Origin

Another protected class is national origin, meaning that housing providers cannot show preferential treatment or discrimination based on the national origin of a tenant, buyer, or borrower. For instance, the languages spoken by an individual shouldn’t affect a landlord’s decision making. 

  • Religion

As a landlord, you cannot choose your renters based on the religion they practice. When advertising your rental unit, refrain from using phrases like “perfect for Muslims” or “a great place for Christians,” as it’s considered a form of preferential treatment and therefore against the Fair Housing Act. 

  • Sex

Landlords shouldn’t choose their renters based on sex and should always avoid including phrases such as “safer for women” on their advertising materials. Unless you’re renting a shared space, like dormitories, selecting tenants based on their sex is prohibited. 

  • Skin Color

Skin color is something that an individual can’t control. Some people may have darker or paler complexions than others. The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for housing providers to use skin color as the basis of their decision. Landlords are prohibited from accepting or denying rent applications based on someone’s skin color. 

  • Familial Status

Familial status refers to the family a person has or belongs to, which includes children. It’s illegal for landlords to deny rent to families with small children. The Fair Housing Act also protects pregnant people from any form of housing discrimination. 

  • Disability

Person standing on a pedestrian bridge that looks out onto a body of water with their walker and a service dog

The federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for housing providers to discriminate against individuals with disabilities. As a landlord, you’re required to grant individuals reasonable accommodations and meet certain needs, such as allowing service animals even when you have a no-pet policy. 

Additional Protection in Virginia’s Fair Housing Act

While all states are required to abide by the federal Fair Housing Act, some states have additional protections. In Virginia, the local state law also makes it illegal for housing providers to discriminate against individuals seeking housing opportunities based on the following additional classes:

  • Elderliness

Any individual aged 55 or older is protected against elderliness. This prohibits landlords from denying housing opportunities to anyone above the age of 54. 

  • Source of Funds

Denying housing opportunities to applicants based on their source of income is illegal under Virginia’s Fair Housing laws. Rejecting a renter’s application because their source of funds includes benefits, donations, financial assistance, or a subsidy program is prohibited.  

  • Sexual Orientation

The refers to a person’s sexual orientation, be it actual or perceived, including but not limited to heterosexuality, homosexuality, or bisexuality. Housing providers shouldn’t discriminate against individuals who have different sexual orientations.

  • Gender Identity

Someone’s gender identity and expression, with or without regard to their designated gender at birth, shouldn’t be used by housing providers as a basis for their decisions. Discriminating against someone because of their appearance or gender-related characteristics is illegal. 

  • Military Status

Person in military uniform reaching for their residence's doorknob while their partner stands behind 

Landlords may not discriminate against or show any preferential treatment to anyone based on their military status. This includes veterans, members of the uniformed forces or reserves, or dependents as defined under the law.

Forms of Housing Discrimination

Housing discrimination may be intentional or unintentional. Intentional housing discrimination happens when a renter is treated negatively for a particular reason, such as belonging to one of the protected classes mentioned above. Examples of this could include breaking a lease or commencing the eviction process after learning about a tenant’s sexual orientation or religion. 

Unintentional discrimination happens when a provider performs actions that are against the Fair Housing Act without realizing they may be discriminatory, such as exclusively marketing a property to renters who are single.


The Fair Housing Act in Virginia aims to regulate housing activities. As a landlord, it’s crucial you become familiar with both federal and state legislation, including landlord-tenant laws, to avoid potential violations, whether intentional or not. If you have questions, reach out to our experts at Keyrenter Chester; we’ll be happy to help!

Disclaimer: This blog should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state. Laws change, and this post might not be updated at the time of your reading. Please contact us for any questions you have in regards to this content or any other aspect of your property management needs.