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Stating a discriminatory preference in a housing post is illegal

(Questions? Comments? Check out the fair housing forum)

 


When making any posting on craigslist, you must comply with section 3604(c) of the Federal Fair Housing Act. This law generally prohibits stating, in any notice or ad for the sale or rental of a dwelling, a discriminatory preference based on any of the following protected categories:

The Fair Housing Act provides additional protections, and limited exceptions, that are explained in publications from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD") and the Department of Justice.

HUD has issued guidance on advertising, including for roommates.

State and local laws often prohibit discrimination based on other factors (e.g. sexual orientation, age, marital status, or source of income).

You may report housing discrimination to HUD at 1-800-669-9777, or to a fair housing advocate near you.

If you encounter a housing posting on craigslist that you believe violates the Fair Housing laws, please flag the posting as "prohibited".

In addition to penalties that may be applied by regulatory agencies, attempts to post discriminatory ads may be blocked and/or subjected to other remedial measures.


Frequently Asked Questions:

What are the laws for roommates and shared housing?
Are there any exceptions to the advertising laws?
What are the "protected categories" in my area?
What is "familial status"?
Who is exempted from laws prohibiting "familial status" discrimination?
How does the law define "handicap"?
What should I do if I find a discriminatory posting?
Recognizing a discriminatory posting
Examples of Discriminatory Advertisements
Other Resources
Actual examples of discriminatory postings on craigslist


What are the laws for roommates and shared housing?

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Federal Fair Housing laws for roommates and shared housing have two components: advertising and decision-making.


Are there any exceptions to the advertising laws?

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Under federal Fair Housing law, the prohibition on discriminatory advertisements applies to all situations except the following:


What are the "protected categories" in my area?

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The "protected categories" under state and local Fair Housing laws may differ depending on where you reside.

Federal law prohibits discrimination based on the following protected categories:

State and local laws often extend anti-discrimination protections to other categories, such as age, marital status, sexual orientation, or source of income. Click your state below for a brief summary of state Fair Housing laws in your state. Please note that not all states have additional Fair Housing laws.

AR - CA - CT - DE - DC - FL - GA - HI - ID - IL - IN - IA - KS - KY - ME - MD - MA - MI - MN - MO - MT - NE - NV - NH - NJ - NM - NY - NC - ND - OH - OR - PA - RI - SC - SD - TN - VT - VA - WV - WI


What is "familial status"?

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"Familial status" means the presence of children under the age of 18.

Unless otherwise exempted, it is illegal to:


Who is exempted from laws prohibiting "familial status" discrimination?

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Under federal Fair Housing laws, "housing for older persons" is exempted from the prohibitions on "familial status" discrimination.

"Housing for older persons" is defined as either of the following:

  1. Housing occupied solely by persons 62 years of age or older; or
  2. Housing in which 80% of the occupied units have at least one person 55 years of age or older, and which meet certain other requirements.

This exemption applies only to familial status discrimination; discrimination against all other protected categories, including disability, is still prohibited in housing for older persons.


How does the law define "handicap"?

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Federal law defines "handicap" as any "physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of [a] person's major life activities, a record of having such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment."

Further discussion of the definition of "handicap" can be found in the section 100.201 of Title 24 of the Code of Federal Regulations (24 C.F.R. 100.201). Your state laws may also have broader definitions of "handicap."


What should I do if I find a discriminatory posting?

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If you encounter a housing posting on craigslist that you believe violates the Fair Housing laws, please flag the posting as "prohibited".

If you are not sure if the posting violates the Fair Housing act, please contact HUD or your local Fair Housing center. If you have made contact with the poster and have been discriminated against based on one of the protected categories, you may file a claim with HUD or your local Fair Housing center as well.


Recognizing a discriminatory posting

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In general, a posting is discriminatory if it expresses a limitation or preference based on one of the protected categories, which may vary depending upon where you reside, but which always include the seven (7) federal categories. State or local laws may protect other categories. Go here for a quick summary of additional laws near you.

A posting is also discriminatory if it uses language that might be discouraging towards a certain protected category. For instance, saying that a particular apartment is "perfect for a single or couple" could be discouraging towards families with children, who do not fit within the stated groups. Please note that unintentionally discriminatory postings are still illegal.

Lastly, a posting is discriminatory if it uses language that might have a disparate, or disproportional, impact on a certain protected category. For instance, an advertisement for a 2 bedroom unit which states a preference for "2 persons only" might have a disparate impact on families with children because, though it does not explicitly state a preference based on familial status, it creates an overly restrictive occupancy limit which would affect families with children to a greater extent than other types of households. (For more information on reasonable occupancy limits, see HUD's guidance on occupancy standards.)


Examples of Discriminatory Advertisements

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Although not an exhaustive list, these examples should give you some idea of what might constitute a discriminatory housing advertisement.

1. race / color

2. religion

3. national origin

4. handicap / disability

5. familial status

6. sex / gender *

* as discussed above, the prohibitions on advertising a preference based upon sex do not apply to shared housing situations.


Other Resources

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National Fair Housing Alliance -- a national organization dedicated to ending discrimination in housing

National Fair Housing Advocate -- an online resource for fair housing advocates and public on issues relating to housing discrimination

Housing.org -- the official site of Project Sentinel, one of the country's largest fair housing centers

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) -- the federal agency charged with investigating claims of housing discrimination

Guidance on advertising - published by HUD

Guidance on advertising - published by the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission

Guidance on Advertising - published by the Equal Rights Center


Please refer to the actual laws or your local Fair Housing center for more information of local laws.

If you have any questions about any of the information on this page, or if you believe any of the information is incorrect or out of date, please give us feedback on our fair housing forum.

craigslist would like to thank the folks at Project Sentinel Fair Housing for their invaluable assistance in creating this page.