You may be protected by federal, state or local laws that shelter certain categories of people from being discriminated against when it comes to renting, buying or financing a home. Federal law protects you from being discriminated against for your race, color, national origin, religion, sex, family status and physical and mental disability. Oregon law also forbids these kinds of discrimination. In addition, Oregon law forbids discrimination based on your marital status, sexual orientation, the source of your income, the fact that you are a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking, or the fact that you have won an eviction case brought by a former landlord. Some cities in Oregon protect people from discrimination on such grounds as age and type of occupation. You should check with your city or county to find out if it offers additional protections against discrimination in housing.
To qualify for protection from discrimination based on a disability, you would have to have an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, such as eating, dressing, bathing, walking, standing, working and so on. You would not qualify as being disabled if your disability is that you currently use an illegal drug.
“Family status” laws protect families with children women who are pregnant, guardians of children, and those who are in the process of getting custody of children, such as by adoption.
State law also makes clear that housing discrimination is unlawful whether it is deliberate and intentional or has the effect intentional or not of having a greater or ‘disparate’ impact on people who are in a protected group.
In most cases, neither federal nor state housing law protects people from discrimination based on age if the person being discriminated against is 18 years or older. (However, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act prohibits discrimination based on age in credit transactions that include the purchase of a home.)
Federal and state laws cover most kinds of residential housing. There is one limited exception involving protection of people with children, and that exception is senior housing. In senior housing, either all the residents must be age 62 or older; or the housing is part of a federal or state program that provides housing solely for seniors; or 80 percent of the units have at least one resident over age 55. However, the regulations controlling senior housing do not always make it impossible for elders to have children living with them. Elders should get specific legal advice on this question.
Housing providers are allowed to set rental criteria and make reasonable rules for their tenants. They are not allowed to apply criteria or rules that would be unfair to a person who is a member of one of the categories described earlier. Therefore, it is illegal to do any of the following to a protected group member:
Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, it will be illegal to refuse to rent to a tenant because of a previous arrest, certain kinds of criminal convictions, or an eviction that happened more than five years earlier.
Beginning July 1, 2014, it will be unlawful to refuse to rent to prospective tenants for the reason that they have a Section 8 voucher or another form of housing assistance.
Fair housing laws cover landlords, their managers, property management companies, mortgage companies, financial institutions, homeowners’ insurance companies, cities, counties, housing authorities and any other entity that provides housing.
People with disabilities have the right to make physical changes such as ramps, grab-bars or widened doorways to their housing unit if such changes are needed, but most landlords do not have to pay for these changes. Landlords do have that obligation in certain subsidized housing. Landlords must make other reasonable exceptions to rules that interfere with a disabled person’s ability to live comfortably in his or her home.
A housing provider may establish reasonable occupancy limits. Landlords may set reasonable rules about the behavior of tenants; those rules cannot single out children for restrictions that do not apply also to adults.
More information about fair housing laws is available for both landlords and tenants from the Fair Housing Council of Oregon at (503) 223-8295 in the Portland metropolitan area or (800) 424-3247 elsewhere in Oregon.
Legal editor: Ed Johnson, August 2013