What is a Protected Class under the Fair Housing Act?

Protected classes are legally protected characteristics with which people identify.  They are the features or social markers that categorize others and ourselves.  The Fair Housing Act was created with the understanding that some social markers are stigmatized and prevent qualified groups of people from accessing the housing of their choice.  The seven federally protected classes are race, religion, national origin, color, familial status, sex, and disability.  These classes or characteristics are protected under the federal Fair Housing Act.  This means that every state has at least these seven protected classes.  Most homes are covered under the Fair Housing Act with few exemptions.  The types of housing that are covered include apartments, private homes, nursing homes, dormitories, mobile home parks, homeless shelters, and many other dwellings.  This means that discrimination during the rental process, the home purchase process, and other housing-related transactions such as appraisals, homeowners insurance, and mortgage lending are illegal.

While there are seven federally protected classes, both states and municipalities have the ability to create additional protected classes within their jurisdiction.  For example, Pennsylvania has two additional protected classes, which protect people over 40 from discrimination because of their age and users, handlers, and trainers of assistance animals.  Cities, townships, and boroughs can also add protected classes.  The city of Philadelphia, for example, has fifteen protected classes.  Additional protected classes may be added through legislation.

Local fair housing organizations such as the Housing Equality Center of Pennsylvania are available to help people who have experienced housing discrimination.  Discrimination can take many forms and identifying discrimination can at times be difficult.  You can learn more about the protected classes by visiting our resources page.  If you have questions about the protections under the act, you can call 866-540-FAIR or fill out our online form.  The Housing Equality Center also offers services to investigate allegations of discrimination.  To learn more about these investigative services visit our testing and investigative services page.  Understanding the federal and local protected classes can be difficult.  The Housing Equality Center is here to provide counseling and answer your questions.

PO BOX 558, Fort Washington, PA 19034
866-540-FAIR | 267-419-8918
info@equalhousing.org