Some people may wish to form residential communities of a certain composition – all senior citizens, all women, or all Buddhists, for example.  Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act, also known as the Fair Housing Act, prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or familial status in the sale or rental of real estate.  States that have adopted similar laws may have added to list of prohibited bases of discrimination. For example, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act also prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, source of income, ancestry, mental disability, and HIV status. 1

Certain exemptions have been made to the law to allow, for example, the creation of senior housing.  The 1988 Amendments and the adoption of the Housing for Older Persons Act (HOPA) of 1995 allow for the exclusion of families with children in communities designed for seniors, so long as those communities meet certain requirements. 2

The Fair Housing Act also exempts some small owner-occupied communities, renting of single family homes, and “housing operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members,” 3 which is what allows, under certain circumstances, fraternity houses to provide housing only to men or sorority houses to provide housing only to women.

However, the Act’s advertising restrictions may apply even to the advertising of a room rental in a single family home or the sale of a unit in a small owner-occupied community.   In those cases, it is still likely illegal to “advertise or make any statement that indicates a limitation or preference based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or handicap.” 4 A person that wants to create a community of a certain character may still communicate such a vision in advertising without expressing a preference for a certain protected class of people. For example, the community may state that part of its mission is to create a safe and welcoming place for lesbian and gay parents and their children, but the community should not express a preference that prospective renter or purchaser be lesbian and gay parents.

  1. Cal. Gov. Code § 12900-12996
  2. “Fair Housing – It’s Your Right” U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, available at http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/FHLaws/yourrights
  3. “Fair Housing – It’s Your Right” U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
  4. “Fair Housing – It’s Your Right” U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development