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Housing Discrimination

Federal law and Pennsylvania law forbid discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, national origin or whether there are children in your family in connection with the purchase, financing or rental of residential property. So, if you believe you have been discriminated against for any of these reasons when trying to obtain a place to live, you may have a legal cause of action against the person or organization responsible.

Some of the key illegal practices to look for include the refusal to negotiate the sale or rental; making the conditions of the rental or purchase worse than they were at first; or any kind of advertising that indicates any preference, limitation or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or children in the family.

You should be particularly suspicious of any questions or requests for information that attempt to indicate your race or ethnic background, for example, applications that ask race or racially oriented questions or request photographs.

You should also remember that it is forbidden under state law to discriminate against a person because of handicap, disability or the use of a guide dog in the rental of housing; so, for example a blind or wheelchair-bound person who felt that he or she could properly use a home or apartment should insist on the right to buy or rent it.

These various discrimination laws discussed do have a few exceptions, but they cover the vast majority of situations.

The federal laws and other related laws which protect these same groups generally apply not only to the sellers and renters of housing, but to those people who work with them, such as rental agents and real estate agents. Thus, everyone in the housing field should be very careful to avoid any illegal discrimination.

If you believe that you have been a victim of discrimination of the type discussed, you should immediately contact the appropriate agency. Generally these agencies are the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. Both of these agencies have their offices in Pittsburgh but will accept telephone calls and mail from the Erie area and will pursue their investigations in person in Erie.

In order to file a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, telephone the Commission Monday through Friday at its Pittsburgh telephone number which is 412/565-5395. The Department of Housing and Urban Development can be telephoned Monday through Friday at 412/644-6428.

As a general rule, there is a short period of time in which you can file your complaint about housing discrimination. So, once you believe you may have been discriminated against in a unlawful fashion, you should act quickly and contact the appropriate agency and file a complaint. If you do not file a complaint within the time allowed by law, you may lose whatever legal rights you may have to damages or other relief the Court could have granted if you had acted in time. Once a complaint is filed, the appropriate agency will make an investigation of the complaint. They will speak to you and to the other parties involved. They will request documents and will interview various people who may have relevant information. The agency may very well carry out some efforts to settle the dispute. If the agency believes that it has found probable cause to believe that discrimination has occurred, it will press the case forward.

You have the right to be free of illegal discrimination. But, remember, you must take prompt action to protect yourself and your family if you believe this kind of discrimination has occurred.3/11

If you need to consult with an attorney or would like more information on housing discrimination, please contact the Erie County Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service.