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Understanding Your Rights
Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Americans  with Disabilities Act of 1990 --Title III-Public
Fair Housing Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Reasonable Accommodations
Reasonable Modifications
Frequently Asked Questions


Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 together with the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, is called the Fair Housing Act. In addition to design and construction requirements, the Fair Housing Act also deals with general prohibitions against discrimination based on disability in the sale or rental of most housing, reasonable accommodations in a housing provider’s rules and policies, and reasonable modifications of an apartment, due to a person’s disability. Furthermore, besides discrimination based on disability, the Fair Housing Act prohibits discriminatory housing practices based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, and/or national origin.


EXEMPTIONS: Other than the prohibitions against discriminatory advertising, the obligations of the Fair Housing Act do not apply to:
  1. The sale or rental of any single family house by an owner, provided the following conditions are met:

    The owner does not own or have any interest in more than three single family houses at any one time.
    (ii) The house is sold or rented without the use of a real estate broker, agent or salesperson or the facilities of any person in the business of selling or renting dwellings. If the owner selling the house does not reside in it at the time of the sale or was not the most recent resident of the house prior to such sale, the exemption applies to only one such sale in any 24-month period.


  2. Rooms or units in dwellings containing living quarters occupied or intended to be occupied by no more than four families living independently of each other, if the owner actually maintains and occupies one such living quarters as his or her residence.96
  3. Religious organizations, when they favor persons of the same religion in the sale, rental, or occupancy in their noncommercial dwellings (unless membership in such religion is restricted because of race, color, or national origin).97
  4. Private clubs (not in fact open to the public), when they favor their members in the rental or occupancy of incidental, noncommercial lodgings.98


The Fair Housing Act uses the term “handicap” instead of “disability.” Under the Act, “handicap” means, with respect to a person, or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities; a record of such an impairment; or being regarded as having such an impairment. This term does not include current, illegal use of or addiction to a controlled substance. “Physical or mental impairment” includes:

  1. any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological; musculoskeletal; special sense organs; respiratory, including speech organs; cardiovascular; reproductive; digestive; genito-urinary; hemic and lymphatic, skin; and endocrine; or
  2. any mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.99

The term “physical or mental impairment” includes, but is not limited to, such diseases and conditions as orthopedic, visual, speech and hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, autism, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection, mental retardation, emotional illness, drug addiction (other than addiction caused by current, illegal use of a controlled substance) and alcoholism.100

“Major life activities” means functions such as caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.101


The Fair Housing Act states that it is unlawful to discriminate in the sale or rental, or to otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any buyer or renter because of a handicap of:

  1. that buyer or renter;
  2. a person residing in or intending to reside in that dwelling after it is sold, rented, or made available; or
  3. any person associated with that person.102

In addition, it is unlawful to discriminate against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of the sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection with such dwelling, because of handicap.103 Prohibited actions include:

  1. using different provisions in leases or contracts for sale, such as rental charges, security deposits, lease terms, down payment, or closing requirements, because of handicap;
  2. failing or delaying maintenance or repairs of sale or rental dwellings, because of handicap;
  3. failing to process an offer for the sale or rental of a dwelling or to communicate an offer accurately because of handicap;
  4. limiting the use of privileges, services, or facilities associated with a dwelling because of the handicap of an owner, tenant, or a person associated with him or her; or
  5. denying or limiting services or facilities in connection with the sale or rental of a dwelling because a person failed or refused to provide sexual favors.104

The Fair Housing Act also makes it unlawful to make an inquiry to determine whether an applicant for a dwelling (or a person intending to reside in that dwelling after it is sold, rented, or made available or any person associated with that person) has a handicap. Furthermore, you cannot make an inquiry as to the nature or severity of a handicap of such a person. Thus, housing providers cannot ask certain questions during the application process. For example, housing providers cannot ask whether a disabled person is capable of living independently, what treatments or medications he/she requires, or whether he/she has ever seen a psychiatrist.

However, the following inquiries are not prohibited provided these inquiries are made of all applicants, whether or not they have handicaps:

  1. inquiry into an applicant’s ability to meet the requirements of ownership or tenancy;
  2. inquiry to determine whether an applicant is qualified for a dwelling available only to persons with handicaps or to persons with a particular type of handicap;
  3. inquiry to determine whether an applicant for a dwelling is qualified for a priority available to persons with handicaps or to persons with a particular type of handicap;
  4. inquiring whether an applicant for a dwelling is a current illegal abuser or addict of a controlled substance;
  5. inquiring whether an applicant has been convicted of the illegal manufacture or distribution of a controlled substance.105

Nevertheless, nothing requires that a dwelling be made available to an individual whose tenancy would constitute a direct threat to the health or safety of other individuals or whose tenancy would result in substantial physical damage to the property of others.106

View Endnotes

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