Frequently Asked Questions about Discrimination in Housing
Are there other laws and agencies that protect my rights in housing?
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) enforces federal laws against housing discrimination. Federal laws prohibit the same kinds of housing discrimination that are illegal under the state Human Rights Act, except that federal law does not protect against housing discrimination based on public assistance status or sexual orientation.
If you live in Minneapolis or St. Paul, the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights and the St. Paul Department of Human Rights enforce ordinances against housing discrimination within those cities respectively. The protected classes are generally the same as those recognized by state laws. In St. Paul, it's also illegal to discriminate in housing based on a tenant's age.
Suppose I rent an apartment and a few months later, I invite my boyfriend to move in. If the landlord then objects to me living with my boyfriend, is that discrimination?
Not necessarily. A landlord cannot refuse to rent an apartment to two unmarried people because they happen to be of the opposite sex (with a few exceptions). But a landlord can screen and approve (or not approve) prospective tenants for other reasons. If the apartment was rented to only you, you could be violating your lease by inviting anyone else to move in.
If a landlord refuses to rent an apartment to me and my two children because he says that would be too many people in an apartment, is that illegal?
Generally, it's illegal to refuse to rent an apartment to someone because they have children who will be living in the apartment. That's discrimination based on familial status. However, a landlord does have the right to set a limit on the number of people who can live in a single apartment, provided that the limit is reasonable and motivated by legitimate business reasons—not merely by a desire to avoid renting to families with children.
Can a landlord conduct background checks, and require information about my credit history?
It's not illegal for a landlord to screen prospective tenants based on their credit histories, provided that all applicants are treated the same. It's possible that requiring this information would have an adverse impact on certain protected classes. If so, the landlord would have to be able to prove that information is being required for legitimate business reasons. If the case went to court, the landlord would also need to show that there is no other, less-discriminatory way to determine whether a tenant is likely to pay the rent.
Can a landlord refuse to rent to me because I'm on public assistance?
It's illegal to refuse to rent to someone because they receive public assistance. A landlord may, however, set income requirements that would tend to rule out public assistance recipients—provided that the requirements apply equally to every applicant regardless of the source of their income. The landlord would also need to show that the requirements are motivated by legitimate business reasons, and not by a desire to discriminate.
What protection do I have as a tenant from harassment because of my race, sexual orientation, or other characteristics?
It's illegal for a landlord to harass a tenant because that individual is a member of a protected class.
If a tenant is being harassed by one or more other tenants—if racial slurs, sexual harassment, or other discriminatory behavior is occurring—the landlord also has an obligation to try to stop the behavior if the landlord knows of the harassment.
Are there exceptions to the law?
A few. It's generally illegal to discriminate in housing on the basis of sexual orientation, but in the case of an owner-occupied building with no more than two apartment units, a landlord could legally choose not to rent to a gay person or to a straight person. The law also allows a person who rents out a room in their own home to decide whether they would prefer to rent to a man or a woman. There are a few other exceptions as well.
What should I do if I feel I've been discriminated against in housing?
Contact the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. You can also contact the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights or the St. Paul Department of Human Rights—if the discrimination took place in either of those cities—or the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Your other options include contacting a private attorney, or one of several legal aid programs that provide free legal assistance for low-income individuals and families.