LGBTQ Housing Discrimination

Members of the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) community often have trouble finding the right rental unit. Even with the federal Fair Housing Act in place, LGBTQ individuals still experience housing discrimination.

Legalities

LGBTQ individuals face profound housing discrimination.
The federal Fair Housing Act states that is unlawful to refuse to rent or sell to someone because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, and/or familial status. It does not specify that discrimination against sexual orientation or gender identity is prohibited, making it legal. States like Colorado, Iowa, and Minnesota have certain housing discrimination protections in place for LGBTQ people in their laws, though this has not been implemented federally. For this reason, many landlords feel they have the right to exclude LGBTQ individuals or dictate their lifestyles. However, discrimination against LGBTQ people may fall under the Fair Housing Act in certain cases.

Sex Discrimination

Members of the LGBTQ community may legally pursue a landlord for discrimination against nonconformity to gender stereotypes.

EXAMPLE

A transgender woman often sits outside on the porch and tends to flowers in the garden. Her landlord informs her that she should not wear women’s clothing in common areas where other tenants can see her because it can make them uncomfortable. This violates the Fair Housing Act because it is sex discrimination.

While there have been some successful instances of litigation in which LGBTQ plaintiffs claimed that discrimination against members of their community can be considered sex discrimination, there is still no transparent, specific, legislatively codified protection against it. In theory, a landlord is allowed to deny someone just because they have a same-sex partner or because they are transgender. However, if a landlord is already renting to someone, legally, they must have a valid claim to evict them. That means the tenant needs to breach the lease agreement for a landlord to have grounds for eviction. Unless a landlord specifies that a tenant must refrain from particular sexual acts or from having certain sexual partners, there really isn’t much they can do.

EXAMPLE

A bisexual woman applies for a lease with her boyfriend and is accepted. A few months after living in the unit, she breaks up with him. Soon after, she begins dating a woman who often comes over. The landlord notices this and threatens to evict her. However, in the lease, there is no provision that states she is not allowed to have a same-sex partner in the unit, meaning the landlord does not have a valid reason.

Everybody has a right to privacy and what one does in their bedroom should not affect a landlord.

Harassment

Sex-based harassment can also be considered a form of discrimination. If an LGBTQ person experiences harassment verbally, physically, or sexually, they may have grounds to claim it as discrimination.

EXAMPLE

A gay couple is using the community pool at the apartment complex they live in. They face harassment when other residents at the pool begin to make obscene comments and tell them to leave. The complex’s staff refuses to intervene and the couple files a complaint. This can be pursued legally because it is harassment as well as discrimination.

Disability Discrimination

Disability discrimination may also pertain to an LGBTQ individual.

EXAMPLE

A gay man trying to rent an apartment gets denied. The landlord claims that he does not want the man spreading HIV/AIDS to other tenants in the property. This is illegal because the landlord is discriminating against a disability, or an assumed disability, HIV/AIDS.

Under federal law, complaints can still be filed if an individual believes they were discriminated against based on HIV status.

HUD Housing

HUD offers a range of specially-funded housing programs for people in need. You can learn more about these programs here. (For landlords who want to know more about government programs, refer to this guide.) Despite the department’s many efforts to establish equality in housing units, many individuals still experience a great deal of difficulty — especially those in the LGBTQ community. To combat this, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) enacted the equal access housing rule, which prohibits officials at HUD-funded units from making decisions based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. This is increasingly important, considering that homelessness is such a prevalent issue amongst LGBTQ individuals.

Human Rights Ordinance

A Human Rights Ordinance (HRO) is a provisional policy passed on the local (city or county) level to protect individuals against discrimination. Usually, HRO policies ban discrimination based on race, religion, sex, disability, ethnicity, national origin and marital status.

A growing number of cities and counties are also beginning to include sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in their policies. It is important to include LGBTQ people in non-discrimination laws, as discrimination in the community is so prominent. A quick search online can help you find out whether or not there is an HRO policy in place for your location.

Know Your Rights

LGBTQ individuals have certain rights they should be aware of.

The HUD has listed rules and regulations that are enforced to protect LGBTQ people. Here is what you should be aware of:

  • It is prohibited under the Fair Housing Act for any landlord or housing provider to discriminate against LGBTQ persons because of their real or perceived gender identity or any other reason that constitutes sex-based discrimination.
  • It is illegal for any landlord or housing provider to deny housing because of someone’s HIV/AIDS status under the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • It is prohibited for a lender to deny a FHA-insured mortgage to any qualified applicant based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.
  • It is prohibited for any landlord or housing provider who receives HUD or FHA funds to discriminate against a tenant on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.
  • It is prohibited for all homeless facilities to segregate or isolate transgender individuals solely based on their gender identity.
What To Do if You’ve Been Discriminated Against

There are distinct actions you can take if you feel that you’ve been discriminated against by a landlord. You can:

  • Talk to the landlord. You are going to be living on this person’s property, so it’s probably best to try and stay in their good graces.
  • Notify your local housing authority. They may be able to help you file a complaint against the landlord and pursue the landlord if they have violated any rules or regulations.
  • Consult an attorney. A lawyer can determine whether or not you have valid claim against the landlord. You could be awarded:
    • Recovery of out-of-pocket losses.
    • An injunction (making the landlord do or stop doing something) prohibiting the unlawful practice.
    • Access to the housing that the landlord is denying you.
    • Damages for emotional distress.
    • Civil penalties or punitive damages.
    • Attorney’s fees.

Senior Same-Sex Couples

It may often be difficult for elderly LGBTQ couples to find housing.

Senior citizens looking for housing face enough difficulty as it is, but senior same-sex couples run into even more hurdles. According to Michael Adams, the executive director of Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), studies show that almost 50% of older, same-sex couples experience discrimination while looking for senior housing. In these studies, senior same-sex couples encountered fewer housing options, higher fees and rent, and more extensive application requirements than heterosexuals.

Thankfully, there is a variety of protections for LGBTQ older adults at the federal, state, county, and municipal levels. Some govern public actors, some private, and some are tied to whether you receive money from the government. There are different ways that these laws are enforced as well – some require that you file complaints with agencies, file lawsuits, or contact the police.

Housing anti-discrimination laws may apply to public housing, private housing (with some exceptions for smaller dwellings), senior housing communities, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, and shelters.

Senior living communities are also legally obligated to protect LGBTQ seniors. A facility’s failure to address harassment by other residents can be considered discrimination. In housing establishments that provide medical care, such as nursing homes, there are certain requirements in place. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) prohibits discrimination in any health program or activity and the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act (FNHRA) creates a minimum set of standards of care and rights for people living in nursing facilities certified for Medicare and Medicaid.

LGBTQ Youth & Homelessness

Young people who identify as LGBTQ have a significantly higher rate of homelessness than those who identify as heterosexual.

« LGBTQ people only make up 10% of the population, but 40% of the homeless youth population. Of these homeless LGBTQ youth, 68% report experiencing family rejection and 54% report experiencing abuse from their family. »

Many young LGBTQ individuals run away from home when they can no longer withstand unfair treatment from family members. Due to this, LGBTQ youth experience harassment, abuse, and sexual exploitation and are often forced to live on the streets because they are not accepted.

They are also frequently driven out of homeless shelters after revealing their gender identity or sexuality. (Note that it is illegal for building employees in federally-funded housing sites to ask for someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation.) Homeless shelters are also known to segregate or isolate transgender individuals. Members of the LGBTQ community face profound disrespect and social stigma, leaving them no choice but to subject themselves to the dangers of homelessness.

Finding a LGBTQ-Friendly Rental Unit

Oftentimes, landlords will tell LGBTQ individuals or couples that they suddenly found a tenant and their unit is no longer vacant. A 2013 study conducted by HUD showed that LGBT people are less likely to receive responses from landlords than non-LGBTQ people are. Not only that, but there is a significant need for affordable housing in the United States — especially affordable housing that is LGBTQ-friendly.

Fortunately, there are a few resources out there that give LGBTQ individuals the chance to find the best rental unit.

  • Tripping is a great site that helps people find vacation rentals for fun and relaxing getaways across the world. To find LGBTQ-friendly rental units, follow the instructions listed here.
  • SAGE has provided an interactive map on their site that allows people to easily search for LGBTQ elder housing units. Scroll down a bit to see it. The states highlighted in orange are ones that have specific protections in place for LGBTQ people.
  • Sublet.com has a page that lets you look for gay-friendly rental units in your area. Just use the drop-down boxes to fill in your credentials.

Jaleesa Bustamante