LGBT Housing Discrimination: Federal and State Protections and Tools for Consumers

FT Contributor  | 

When looking to buy or rent property, LGBTQ individuals and couples may face discrimination and even harassment. While the Fair Housing Act prevents property owners from refusing to rent or sell to a prospective buyer or tenant on the basis of race, color, nationality, religion, sex, disability, or family status, the act does not include special protections for sexual orientation or gender identity.

In addition, LGBTQ couples may face greater discrimination than heterosexual couples, pay higher taxes on a property than married couples, and may be left in an uncertain situation in the event of a partner’s death. Fortunately, there are a variety of state and federal protections that individuals can use to ensure they aren’t discriminated against.

What Is LGBTQ Housing Discrimination?

There are a variety of different ways in which individuals can be discriminated against on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. These include sexual discrimination and targeted harassment. In particular, a property owner might refuse to rent or sell to individuals or couples who are openly gay or trans. If they do decide to rent their property to LGBTQ individuals, they may still engage in targeted harassment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

LGBTQ Housing Protections

Fortunately, there are legal protections at both the state and federal level for those who face housing discrimination.

State LGBTQ Housing Protections

Some states do explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. In fact, 21 states have already passed legislation to help protect members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination and harassment. Other states may interpret existing prohibitions to cover discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

However, some states offer no state-level legal protections to LGBTQ individuals when it comes to housing. In addition to state protections, towns, cities, and municipalities may also have laws in place that protect members of the LGBTQ community.

Federal LGBTQ Housing Protections

Unfortunately, there aren’t yet any federal housing protections that specifically protect LGBTQ people. However, the Fair Housing Act may offer protection in some cases, especially in the case of discrimination based on sex. Individuals have the right to legally pursue a landlord or property owner if they feel they have been discriminated against. For instance, if a property owner insists that a trans woman refrains from wearing specific kinds of clothing or accessories in a public area, they would be in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

After a property owner or landlord has agreed to rent an apartment, they can only evict tenants if there has been an explicit breach of the rental agreement. For instance, if a landlord discovers that a tenant is gay after they have already agreed to rent an apartment, they’re not allowed to evict them on this basis alone. Similarly, a landlord isn’t allowed to evict a tenant just because they begin to transition or express their gender identity.

Additionally, members of the LGBTQ community can pursue legal action if they experience harassment from landlords or other tenants. This includes verbal, physical, or sexual harassment. If a landlord or property owner refuses to rent to gay tenants because of the belief that they may have AIDS or HIV, that can also be classified as disability discrimination, which is already protected under the Fair Housing Act.

LGBTQ Housing Assistance

There are a variety of specially funded programs that focus specifically on LGBTQ housing discrimination.

  • SAGE provides advocacy and services for LGBTQ elders, including help with housing discrimination.
  • Tripping is a site that helps people find LGBT-friendly vacation rentals.
  • Sublet.com offers a service that lets renters search for LGBT-friendly apartment rentals.
  • You can file a housing discrimination complaint online with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  • The LGBTQ Bar offers LGBT-friendly legal services through affiliate organizations throughout the country.
  • Lambda Legal provides information and resources relating to LGBTQ discrimination.
  • The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund provides legal help for transgender individuals.

What to Do if You’re Discriminated Against

LGBTQ individuals can face discrimination and harassment in any area of their lives, whether in the workplace, at school, as a small business owner, or when it comes to housing. Individuals in the process of transitioning may face additional discrimination and legal hurdles both at work and at home.

While it’s a good idea to seek out a welcoming and LGBT-friendly environment, unfortunately, that’s not always possible. There are several things you should do if you feel you have been discriminated against when it comes to housing.

  • Talk to your landlord — If you’ve experienced discrimination or harassment from your landlord or property owner, it’s a good idea to make sure they know that what they’re doing is illegal. Always be sure to prioritize your own safety, and to request help from a friend or local authority if you’re feeling unsafe.
  • Talk to your local housing authority — Your local housing authority can help you file an official complaint and pursue legal action.
  • Reach out to an attorney — If you decide to take legal action against your landlord, it’s a good idea to consult an attorney to make sure that you have a solid claim and to help walk you through the process.

While members of the LGBTQ community unfortunately still face discrimination when it comes to housing, there are a variety of legal protections and supportive organizations that can help them to fight back against hate and discrimination.


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