What Are the 7 Protected Classes for Fair Housing?

In the United States, there are laws that protect individuals from housing discrimination, as it is considered a fundamental human right. Discrimination can occur in different forms: unequal treatment, steering, selective application policies, denial of services or amenities, etc.

The Basics: What is the Fair Housing Act?

The Fair Housing Act, enacted in 1968 as part of the Civil Rights Act, plays a pivotal role in safeguarding this right. The Fair Housing Act provides protection against discrimination in housing for certain groups of people, known as protected classes. 

Under the Fair Housing Act, there are seven federally protected categories: race, religion, national origin, color, familial status, sex, and disability. In this blog, we will explore each of them and their significance in promoting inclusive housing opportunities.

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Protected Classes for Fair Housing

  1. Race

Race-based discrimination has historically been a pervasive issue, and the Fair Housing Act addresses this by prohibiting any form of racial discrimination in housing transactions. This protection ensures that individuals of all racial backgrounds have equal access to housing without facing bias or prejudice.

Race For example, if an Asian individual contacts a landlord about a vacant apartment. The landlord responds, “I’m sorry, but we’ve already rented out the apartment.” Later, a white friend inquires about the same apartment and is told, “Yes, the apartment is available. When would you like to schedule a viewing?”

This shows race discrimination in housing, where Asians are denied housing while white people are given housing.

  1. Color

Discrimination based on color is closely related to racial discrimination. It protects individuals from being denied housing or treated unfairly due to the color of their skin. This provision reinforces the idea that everyone should have the same opportunities regardless of their skin color.

For example, a prospective tenant with a deep complexion applies to rent an apartment. The landlord reviews the application and, upon seeing a photo of the applicant, decides to deny the application without any further assessment. The landlord’s decision is solely based on the applicant’s skin color, and no other factors are taken into account. This form of discrimination, where an applicant’s color influences the landlord’s decision to deny housing, constitutes discrimination based on color.

Watch this video example to understand the feelings people experience when they face discrimination based on their skin color.

Black Couple Denied Rental Housing | @DramatizeMe

  1. Religion

Religious discrimination is another prohibited practice under the Fair Housing Act. Individuals must not be denied housing based on their religious beliefs or practices. This protection is vital in fostering an environment where diverse religious backgrounds are respected and upheld.

For example, a family is looking to rent a house in a suburban neighborhood. When they visit a property, they inform the landlord that they go to a local mosque and inquire about a nearby place for their regular prayers. The landlord responds, “We prefer tenants who share our religious beliefs. We’ve had issues with noise and parking from people who attend religious services.”

By excluding the family based on their religious affiliation and implying that their religious practices might be disruptive, the landlord is engaging in discrimination based on religion.

  1. National Origin

National origin discrimination involves treating individuals unfairly due to their place of birth or ancestry. The Fair Housing Act ensures that people from different countries or cultural backgrounds are not subjected to housing discrimination based on their national origin.

Let’s understand this with an example: an individual from South America applies to rent an apartment in a complex. They submit all the required documents and meet the financial criteria. However, the property manager reviews the application and notices the applicant’s non-American name and accent.

The property manager then sends a rejection notice, citing vague reasons such as “we’ve decided to go with other applicants.” This rejection based on the applicant’s non-American name and accent rather than their qualifications is a clear instance of discrimination based on national origin.

  1. Gender

Gender-based discrimination, including sexual harassment and stereotyping, is strictly prohibited in housing transactions. The Fair Housing Act recognizes the importance of providing equal opportunities regardless of gender, whether someone identifies as male, female, transgender, or non-binary.

For example, if two individuals, one male and one female, independently apply to rent an apartment. Both applicants have similar financial backgrounds and rental histories. The landlord processes the male applicant’s application promptly, conducting background checks and verifying references promptly. However, the landlord delays processing the female applicant’s application, citing reasons such as needing more time for verification, even though her documentation is complete.

This differential treatment in application processing based on gender is an instance of gender discrimination in housing.

  1. Familial Status

This protected class pertains to families with children under the age of 18 and pregnant women. Housing providers cannot discriminate against families by imposing different rental terms, denying housing, or limiting the availability of housing options simply because of the presence of children.

Let’s understand this with the help of the example, a family with two young children is looking to rent an apartment in a complex. When they inquire about available units, the property manager informs them that families with children are only allowed to live in designated buildings farther from the main amenities due to concerns about noise and disturbances. However, individuals without children can choose any available apartment.

This practice of limiting housing options and amenities solely based on familial status constitutes familial status discrimination.

  1. Disability

The Fair Housing Act ensures that individuals with disabilities are not discriminated against in housing. This includes providing reasonable accommodations for disabled persons to ensure equal access to housing opportunities. It’s important to note that the definition of disability under this act is broad and includes physical and mental impairments that substantially limit major life activities.

For example, if a tenant who has a mental health disability lives in an apartment complex. They occasionally have emotional support animals to help manage their condition. Despite providing documentation from a healthcare professional, the landlord repeatedly warns the tenant that the animals are causing disturbances. The tenant takes steps to prevent the animals from causing problems, but the landlord gives them an eviction notice, saying that their pets are breaking the complex’s rules against having pets.

The tenant’s eviction solely due to their disability-related accommodations is an instance of disability discrimination.


The Fair Housing Act’s recognition of these seven protected classes is a significant step toward promoting equality, diversity, and inclusivity in housing. By prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, and disability, the act helps create a society where everyone has an equal chance to secure safe and suitable housing. As we continue to strive for a fair and just society, it’s crucial to understand and uphold these protected classes to ensure that housing opportunities remain accessible to all, irrespective of their background or characteristics.

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