What is housing discrimination?
It is illegal in the state of Massachusetts to discriminate against an individual on the basis of their gender identity in the area of housing.
The following information has been adapted from Boston Fair Housing Commission
Home sellers and landlords have a responsibility and a requirement under the law not to discriminate in the sale, rental, or financing of property. Under the law, a home seller or landlord cannot establish discriminatory terms or conditions in the purchase or rental, deny that housing is available only to persons in a protected class, or instruct an agent or broker to convey such limitations to potential applicants.
What housing is covered under anti-discrimination laws?
- Single-family homes owned by private persons when a real estate broker and/or discriminatory advertising is used to rent or sell the home.
- Single-family homes not owned by private persons (such as corporations or partnerships), even if a broker is not used to rent or sell the home.
- Owner occupied multi-family buildings when a real estate broker and/or discriminatory advertising is used to rent or sell the home.
- Multi-family buildings with four or fewer units, if the owner does not live in one of the units.
- Multi-family buildings with five or more units, including rooming houses.
What are some examples of behavior that may be housing discrimination?
- If you call and get an appointment to look at a house, but when you get there, you are told that the house was just sold.
- If you are told that the apartment has been rented, but it is listed in the paper again.
- If you are told a higher selling price than what was advertised, or what you hear others being told.
- If you are told that they cannot rent to families with children because the house has lead paint.
- If you are told that only married couples can purchase the unit.
- If you are given different terms or conditions for signing a lease than other applicants.
- If you are told that you can’t or shouldn’t buy the house because the neighbors might be unfriendly, or they many not accept families like yours.
- If you are only shown homes in certain parts of town.
- If you are not given the opportunity to negotiate.
Even if discriminatory actions are not intentional, they are still illegal.
- If you offer options to one applicant and not to another based on their membership in a protected class, such as gender identity or sexual orientation, this is discrimination.
- If you make assumptions about potential tenants or clients – about their ability to pay, about their likelihood of being “good” tenants, about their potential for causing problems – based on their perceived or actual race, disability, ethnicity, family size, gender identity, sexual orientation etc. – that is discrimination.
Real Estate Agents
Real estate agents are required to offer equal professional service, the opportunity to consider a broad range of housing choices, and no discriminatory limitations on communities or locations of housing. Additionally, an agent must not discriminate in the financing, appraising or insuring of housing. Real estate agents must provide reasonable accommodations in rules, practices, and procedures for persons with disabilities. Finally, real estate agents a required to present non-discriminatory terms and conditions for the sale, rental, financing, or insuring of a dwelling. An individual has the right to be free from harassment or intimidation for exercising their fair housing rights.
How do you file a housing discrimination complaint?
Note: It is important to act quickly because some of your rights are not protected if you do not act within 6 months.
The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston, and The Department of Housing and Urban Development are all agencies in which one can utilize to file a housing discrimination complaint, regardless of location in Massachusetts.
Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD)
MCAD handles all discrimination complaints that have to do with state law, as well as violations of the Federal Title VIII Act.
- Click here for a quick reference on housing discrimination
- Click here for more information about how to file a complaint with MCAD
The Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston is another organization that can assist you in filing a housing complaint.
Based on the facts of your case, the Center may assist you with filing a complaint in court. Serve the communities in Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth, and Suffolk counties.
How to File Link *Individual must download complaint intake form
Department of Housing and Urban Development
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is a federal agency that takes complaints and investigates housing discrimination that violates federal law. You can file a complaint online, on the phone, or through the mail.
There is a specific HUD rule that prohibits discrimination on the sexual orientation and gender identity. This includes any housing funded by HUD including Section 8, FHA loans, and other HUD funded housing. You can down the final rule here.
For more information about this rule watch this video:
Filing Your Housing Discrimination Complaint Online
Filing a complaint by mail
Boston Regional Office of FHEO
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr.
10 Causeway Street, Room 321
Boston, Massachusetts 02222-1092
TTY (617) 565-5453
Filing a complaint by Phone: 1-800-669-9777 (this is one of those voice mail lines, so be patient and have a pen ready!)
Filing a Housing Discrimination Complaint in Other Major Cities:
Boston Fair Housing Commission
The Fair Housing Commission works to eliminate discrimination and increase access to housing in Boston through investigation and enforcement, affirmative marketing, housing counseling, and interagency coordination.
A complaint or request for inspectional services can be filed through the Mayor’s 24 Hour Constituent Service Line, this can be done online, in person, or via phone at 617-635-4500.
Cambridge Human Rights Commission
If you would like to file a housing complaint in the city of Cambridge you can contact the Cambridge Human Rights Commission.
51 Inman Street—2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02139
Phone: (617) 349-4396
TTY: (617) 492-0235
City of Somerville Human Rights Commission
If you would like to file a housing complaint in the city of Somerville you can do so through the Human Rights Commission.
For more information regarding the process of filing a complaint see the link
For any additional information, please contact Doug Kress, Director of Health and Human Services at 617-625-6600 ext. 4300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hard copies of our Rules of Procedures will be mailed upon request.
New Bedford, MA
New Bedford Human Relations Commission
If you are a New Bedford resident and would like to file a complaint, please contact City of New Bedford’s Office of Housing and Community Development at (508) 979-1581. For more information on the process of filing a complaint in New Bedford click here
If unable to assist contact MCAD, HUD, or the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston.