How do fair housing protections apply to COVID-19?

The COVID-19 pandemic has raised fair housing concerns, particularly on the basis of race, national origin, disability, and age. There have been reports that housing providers have refused to negotiate with persons that the provider perceived, on the basis of race or national origin, to be associated with an area where a COVID-19 outbreak is or has been prevalent. Discriminatory treatment of persons with disabilities and older persons in housing and housing-related services has also been reported during this pandemic period.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a Statement on Fair Housing and COVID-19 which “reminds housing providers and the public at large of important federal fair housing laws that protect persons from discrimination, including harassment and intimidation, in housing and related services on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, and disability.” State and local fair housing laws provide anti-discrimination protections to additional classes including disability and age.

Some housing providers, in an effort to help prevent the community spread of COVID-19, have refused tenancy to persons whom the provider perceived to constitute a direct threat to the health and safety of other tenants. The determination of a direct threat cannot be based upon a generalized fear, or a stereotyped assumption about an individual who is a member of a protected class.

The Fair Housing Act, other federal laws, state and local fair housing laws, and civil rights laws prohibit the eviction, turning away or harassment of a person in housing because they are profiled, on the basis of race, national origin or other protected class, to be associated with COVID-19.

Housing discrimination such as the unlawful denial of housing, inquiries about whether a person has COVID-19, or limitations and restrictions to access to housing or housing-related services because of COVID-19 concerns may constitute illegal discrimination.

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