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Fair Housing Laws

There are several sets of laws which protect the rights of individuals in housing-related transactions in Pennsylvania. Let’s take a look at each of these laws and the different protections found in each.

Federal Laws

The Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in any housing-related transaction, including rentals, sales, mortgage lending, homeowners insurance, home appraisals, and zoning decisions relating to residential uses. Covered housing includes apartments, private housing, public housing, condominiums, homeless shelters, mobile home parks, nursing homes, dormitories, addiction recovery homes, group homes for people with disabilities, and nonprofit housing programs.

Under the Fair Housing Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person in any housing-related transaction based on:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Disability (under the Fair Housing Act, housing providers must allow reasonable accommodations and modifications for individuals with disabilities)
  • Sex (includes Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity)
  • Religion
  • National Origin
  • Familial Status (the presence of children under 18 in a household or because a member of the household is pregnant, or they will be adopting or securing legal custody of a child)

The Fair Housing Act applies to most housing. There are a few exemptions to the Fair Housing Act:

A dwelling with four or fewer units, if the owner lives in one of the units – however, it is important to note that these dwellings are not exempt from the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act unless they contain only two units, with one being owner occupied.

Single family housing sold or rented without the use of a broker, if the private individual owner does not own more than three such single-family homes at one time. Please note that the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act does not contain this exemption so these dwellings are not exempt in the state of Pennsylvania.

Under the Fair Housing Act, religious organizations and private clubs can give preference to members if they don’t discriminate in their membership.

A community qualifies as housing for older persons and is exempt from the prohibition against familial status discrimination if:

1) HUD has determined that it is specifically designed for and occupied by elderly persons under a federal, state or local government program;
2) it is 100% occupied by persons 62 or older; or
3) it houses at least one person 55 or older in at least 80% of the occupied units, and adheres to a policy that demonstrates an intent to house persons 55 or older.

There are no exemptions to the advertising provision of the Fair Housing Act which stipulates that you cannot make, print or publish a discriminatory statement. And no one is exempt from the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which prohibits all racial discrimination in the sale or rental of property.

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Pennsylvania Laws

Pennsylvania Human Relations Act

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, commercial property, education, and public accommodations. The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act adds two additional protected classes that are covered under housing related transactions in the state of Pennsylvania. They are:

  1. Individuals over the age of 40
  2. Users, handlers, or trainers of assistance animals for persons with disabilities

Pennsylvania Landlord and Tenant Act

The Pennsylvania Landlord and Tenant Act governs the rights and responsibilities that both housing providers and tenants have with regard to a rental transaction. These policies help to guard both landlords and tenants against unfair practices and outline rules to regulate the rental of residential properties.  Below are just some of the topics covered by the Pennsylvania Landlord and Tenant Act.

  • Lease Provisions
  • Limitations of Security Deposits
  • Tenant’s Right to Privacy
  • Eviction Process
  • Unenforceable lease provisions
  • Implied Warranty of Habitability

For more information on the Pennsylvania Landlord and Tenant Act, please visit our Renter’s Rights site and Landlord’s Responsibilities site.

Local Laws

Pennsylvania has 2,560 individual municipal governments, which each have the power to enact their own ordinances prohibiting discrimination. Some Boroughs, Townships, and Cities throughout Pennsylvania have enacted anti-discrimination ordinances that prohibit discrimination based on additional protected classes such as marital status, veteran status, or source of income. The City of Philadelphia’s Fair Practices Ordinance prohibits landlords and property owners from discriminating against persons based on the source of income they would use to rent or purchase property. This law is enforced by the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations.

Learn more about the Housing Equality Center of Pennsylvania