Steps to Take to Protect Yourself Against Discrimination

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Amy Romero and Maureen St. Cyr

If you are a member of a "protected class," meaning that you are a person of color, have Section 8, receive public assistance, or fit into one of the other protected categories, you may be at risk of discrimination. There are steps you can take to protect yourself.

  1. When calling a landlord, don't start out by asking if they take Section 8 or if they have a problem renting to children. Assume that landlords are going to follow the law and simply ask to see the apartment that is listed. Also ask the name of whom you are speaking with and write it down.
  2. If you are asked if you have Section 8 or whether children will live with you, answer truthfully. If the landlord refuses to show the apartment after finding out you have children or are a member of a protected class, you may have a valid discrimination claim.
  3. If a landlord or agent asks you if you want a leaded or a deleaded apartment, always ask to see whatever is available. "Steering" based on the presence of children is illegal, and you have the right to see all available apartments.
  4. Answer all questions on a rental application truthfully. Don't lie about past evictions or who will live in an apartment. Even if the landlord is discriminating against you, lying on your application will give her a legitimate reason to turn you down.
  5. Always ask to see an apartment even if the landlord says it is too small for you, not appropriate for your family, or in bad condition. It may be that the apartment is better suited to you than the landlord thinks. Also, if the landlord is discriminating against you, it will give you a chance to decide if you want the apartment anyway.
  6. Continue to try to view an apartment, put in an application, or rent a unit until you get a firm turn-down from the landlord. Too often, tenants believe that when a landlord says something like, "I've never taken Section 8 before," they are being denied an apartment. Assume the landlord is not turning you down until you are clearly given a yes or no answer about renting the apartment.
  7. Ask the landlord to be specific about why you were turned down for an apartment. If she says, "Someone else saw it first," try to get information about when the person saw the apartment. If the landlord says, "You didn't qualify for the apartment," try to get information about what qualifications the landlord is looking for.
  8. Do not accuse the landlord of discrimination. Such accusations do not result in a landlord's changing her mind and may ruin any chance you have to get evidence of discrimination.


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