This is the fourth post in our series on Massachusetts housing law. Read our first, second, and third posts. Next week we'll cover the related concept of reasonable accommodations in housing.
You may be wondering if any of the following may amount to discrimination:
I met with a real estate agent and she told me the apartment I was interested in doesn’t rent to Section 8.
I met with a real estate agent and she showed me a handful of nice apartments, returned my calls, and was generally friendly. I then mentioned that I was in a same sex relationship and that my wife was going to move in with me, adding to the rent we could afford. When I called the real estate agent a few days later she told me the apartments were no longer available and that she had no other apartments to show me.
I am a minority looking for an apartment. My real estate agent has shown me a few places and when we visit he lets me into the apartment and tells me to look around. He hasn’t provided me with any extra information. I talked to my friend the other day, who is not a minority, and is working with the same real estate company and his real estate agent shows him around the apartments, explains all the amenities, parking, and other benefits. We both make about the same amount of money and his real estate agent has given him an application for three apartments already and always responds to his text messages.
I have a service dog to assist me with my medical needs and I am having trouble finding an apartment because all the apartments I am interested in have strict “no pet” policies.
Can a landlord say on Craigslist that they don’t rent to families?
Do those scenarios potentially amount to discrimination? Yes. Other factors may be present, but each of the above scenarios, without more, constitutes discrimination under Massachusetts Law.
It is unlawful for a landlord or realtor to make housing unavailable, refuse to rent to you if you’re a member of a protected class, to publish discriminatory advertisements, or to evict you if you’re a member of a protected class. It is also unlawful to set different terms for sale or rental, to create a hostile housing environment, and more.
Also look for other theories of discrimination that can be pursued, such as racial steering, redlining, or disparate impact.
Moreover, the fair housing laws don't just apply to your landlord or real estate agent, they also apply to property owners and/or sellers, condo associations and homeowner associations, housing employees, developers, attorneys, and advertisement venues.
As we covered in last week's post, to establish a prima facie case in a rental scenario under the Fair Housing Act and M.G.L. ch. 151B, § 4, the complainant must show that (1) he or she is a member of a protected class; (2) the housing was available for rent; (3) he or she was objectively qualified to rent the housing; and (4) he or she was deterred from renting or refused tenancy because of the protected class status.
Protected Classes under Federal Fair Housing Act (42 U.S.C. § 3601):
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