Human Rights and Equity Programs

CONTACT INFORMATION: Our office is open 8AM-4:30PM. To file a complaint, call (703) 324-2953 to be scheduled for an intake appointment via telephone or videoconference.
703-324-2953 TTY 711
12000 Government Center Parkway, Suite 318
Fairfax, VA 22035
Michael L. Simms

Housing Discrimination (Fair Housing)

Image of neighborhoodFair housing is your right! Housing discrimination happens in the process of renting, buying, selling or getting a loan for a home. It also includes discrimination that denies someone the use or enjoyment of their home.

For more on Fair Housing, visit the Fair Housing Task Force webpage and the Fair Housing Regional Analysis webpage.

Who is Protected?

Discrimination in housing is prohibited on the basis of race; color; sex; religion; national origin; marital status; familial status (having children younger than 18); handicap or disability, elderliness (age 55+), sexual orientation, gender identity, military status, or source of funds.

It is also illegal to discriminate against someone because he or she has opposed housing discrimination, participated in an investigation, or exercised otherwise exercised a right provided for under Fairfax County’s Fair Housing Act

New Webinar: Fair Housing: Discrimination Based on Sex, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity were recently added to Virginia’s protected classes and are also now included as Sex Discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. This webinar, presented by the Equal Rights Center and the Fairfax County Office of Human Rights & Equity Programs, will update housing providers and others on these developments and provide best practices to prevent discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

View the Webinar

Fact Sheet: Housing Discrimination Based on Sex, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity


fact sheet coverVirginia's fair housing law protects against discrimination based on: Elderliness (55+), Military Status, Source of Funds, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity.

In addition, Fairfax County protects against discrimination based on Marital Status.

The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development now considers discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity as sex discrimination.


Sex Discrimination: the denial of an opportunity to rent or purchase a home because of a person's sex.

  • Increasing rent or threatening an eviction because of sex or gender.
  • Applying different rules because of sex or gender.
  • Advertising a preference.
  • Sexual harassment.

Sexual Harassment: any unwanted sexual advance, request for sexual favors, or other unwelcome verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.

  • Quid Pro Quo: An unwelcome request in exchange for housing or services.
  • Hostile Environment: Unwelcome conduct that is sufficiently severe or pervasive as to interfere with housing.
  • Retaliation: Acting against any person because that person reported a discriminatory practice to a housing provider or other authority.

Sexual Orientation: discriminating against a person for their actual or perceived sexual orientation. This includes discrimination due to someone’s physical appearance, mannerisms, the partner they are with, or any self-identifying symbols or flags.

  • Refusing to rent to a same-gender couple.

Gender Identity: discriminating against someone for their gender-related identity, appearance, or other gender related characteristics of an individual, with or without regard to the individual’s designated sex at birth.

  • Harassing a tenant by not using their correct pronouns or chosen name on purpose.
  • Charging different fees or enforcing different conditions after a tenant transitions.

Reasonable Accommodations and Modifications Self-Advocacy Toolkit

Reasonable Accommodations and Modifications ToolkitThe purpose of this toolkit is to provide you with the tools necessary to recognize the barriers that may prevent you from the full use and enjoyment of your home and what you can do to eliminate them.

The federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) requires property owners to allow reasonable modifications and reasonable accommodations to persons with disabilities so that they can have full use and enjoyment of the property where they reside. The accessibility laws under the FHA ensure that, either through structural changes to the building (generally referred to as “reasonable modifications”) or changes in rules and policies (generally referred to as “reasonable accommodations”), people with disabilities have equal access to and enjoyment of their homes as do non-disabled persons.

If you are a person with a disability, you have the legal right to obtain a modification or accommodation to your dwelling, if it is a reasonable request and it is necessary to afford you access to and equal enjoyment of the property. This request can be made prior to moving into the unit or any time during your tenancy. This toolkit is designed to help you assert your civil rights and request a reasonable modification or a reasonable accommodation from your housing provider.

This toolkit includes:

  • Information about your legal rights.
  • Steps that will help you request a reasonable modification or accommodation.
  • Templates for writing a request for a reasonable modification/ accommodation.
  • How and where to turn for help.

Fair Housing for People with Disabilities

Fair Housing for People with Disabilities flyer coverEveryone has a right to fair housing. The ability to live where one chooses with dignity and without fear of discrimination is a basic right guaranteed to all people. The Fairfax County Office of Human Rights and Equity Programs (OHREP) enforces the Fairfax County Human Rights Ordinance and the Fairfax County Fair Housing Act, which prohibit discrimination in housing. If you are a person with a disability, you have the right to equal access to housing, including full enjoyment of your housing. If you believe that you, or someone you know, have experienced housing discrimination in Fairfax County, you have the right to file a fair housing complaint with OHREP, but you must do so within 365 days from the date the alleged discriminatory act occurred, or in the case of a continuing violation, from the date the alleged discriminatory act ended.

What is a Disability?

The federal Fair Housing Act defines a disability to include a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities are central activities to daily life, such as seeing, hearing, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, caring for oneself, and speaking. A disability can include a hearing, visual, or mobility impairment; a medical condition; or an emotional illness.

The Right to Fair Housing

Federal, state, and local laws all prohibit housing discrimination against people with disabilities. In particular, the federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status. In addition, the Fairfax County Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of elderliness (age 55 and older), marital status, source of funds, sexual orientation, gender identity, and status as a veteran. Under both the federal Fair Housing Act and the Fairfax County Fair Housing Act, people with disabilities are entitled to enjoy the same housing opportunities as other residents. For example, housing providers may not:

  • Refuse to rent, sell, or negotiate housing.
  • Set different terms, conditions, or privileges for sale or rental of a dwelling.
  • Falsely deny that housing is available for inspection, sale, or rental.
  • Discourage a person from seeking housing in a particular community.
  • Deny access to or membership in a facility or service related to the sale of housing.
  • Refuse to allow for a reasonable accommodation or reasonable modification (explained below).
  • Threaten or interfere with anyone making a fair housing complaint.
  • Harass a tenant or housing applicant.
  • Take any other action to otherwise make housing unavailable.

Reasonable Accommodations and Modifications

People with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations and reasonable modifications that are needed for them to enjoy full use of a residence.

  • A reasonable accommodation is a change in a rule, policy, practice, or service in order to give a person with a disability equal choice and opportunity. Examples include assigning an accessible parking spot to someone with a mobility impairment or allowing a service animal in a “no pets” building. In addition, a housing provider cannot require a pet fee for a service animal.
  • A reasonable modification is a structural change that affords a person with a disability full use and enjoyment of the facility. Examples include installing a ramp to an entrance door, widening doorways, lowering countertops, and installing grab bars. Who pays? It depends. If the property is covered under new building accessibility requirements, the housing provider may be liable for any reasonable modification costs incurred. If the property is not covered, the resident may be responsible for associated costs.

Fair Housing Accessibility Requirements

Apartments and other multifamily housing first occupied after March 13, 1991, must also meet certain basic levels of accessibility. The accessibility requirements apply to all units in buildings with four or more units that have an elevator. If a building with four or more units has no elevator and was first occupied after March 13, 1991, these standards apply to ground floor units only.

What Can a Housing Provider Ask?

Housing providers may inquire into an applicant’s ability to meet tenancy requirements. This means that a landlord may ask whether you have sufficient income to be able to pay the rent, whether you are willing to comply with the required rules (unless a reasonable accommodation is made), and other questions relating directly to tenancy. A housing provider may also adopt and apply uniform, objective, and nondiscriminatory criteria designed to evaluate a prospective tenant’s credit worthiness, such as requiring credit or criminal background checks.

If you have a disability, you cannot be treated differently just because you are a person with a disability, nor can you have your housing choice limited because of a disability. Reasonable accommodations and reasonable modifications have to be just that—reasonable. When a person makes a reasonable accommodation or modification request, a landlord has the right to examine the relationship between the request being made and the disability. However, the person making the request remains entitled to privacy.

Even when a person makes a request for a reasonable accommodation or modification, the landlord is only entitled to know that a disability exists and that the request is related to that disability. The individual making the request is not required to share the nature and full extent of the disability.

Questions like “Can you walk at all?”; “How did you lose your leg?”; or “How long have you had to use that wheelchair?” are all illegal. A landlord cannot talk to other tenants in the building about your disability. Your disability is no one’s business but your own.

Get Help

If you feel that you have experienced housing discrimination in Fairfax County because of a disability, you can file a complaint with OHREP within 365 days from the date of the alleged discrimination.

New Webinar: How Racial Bias Restricts Housing, Neighborhood Choice, and Integrated Communities

This webinar, presented by the Equal Rights Center in collaboration with the Fairfax County Office of Human Rights & Equity Programs, discusses how housing discrimination because of race and racial biases restrict housing, neighborhood choice, and integrated communities. Specifically, the webinar addresses topics such as source of funds discrimination, the use of racially-coded language, and best practices for criminal records and credit screening.

View the Webinar

Fact Sheet: How Racial Bias Restricts Housing, Neighborhood Choice, and Integrated Communities


fact sheet coverPrior to the Fair Housing Act, decades of government policy allowed for legalized segregation and discrimination. These policies have had a lasting impact on communities of color and continue to shape our country in many ways. It is important to understand how, because of this history, seemingly race-neutral policies or practices can further marginalize people of color and perpetuate segregation.

Racially Coded Language

Certain facets of American life are so defined by segregation and stereotypes that they can be used in conversation as proxies for race. Examples include schools, crime, and neighborhood character. If a real estate agent, for example, tells a homebuyer that they should limit their home search to a certain school district, that suggestion likely has a racial implication, since neighborhood segregation often correlates with school segregation in communities.

Tenant Screening Criteria

Tenant screening criteria, such as criminal background checks or credit scores, often have a discriminatory impact on rental applicants of color. If used, they should be applied equally to all applicants. For criminal background checks, housing providers should conduct individualized assessments of applicants' histories to mitigate the potential such screenings have to discriminate.

Source of Funds Discrimination

Housing Choice Vouchers can be a tool used to desegregate communities by facilitating mobility for low-income families into neighborhoods of opportunity. Where Source of Income/Funds is a protected class, like in Virginia, it is illegal to discriminate against someone because they use a housing voucher. A housing provider who refuses to accept a rental applicant because they use a housing voucher - or excludes voucher holders by instituting a discriminatory minimum income requirement - is likely violating state law. 

What does Housing Discrimination Look Like?

Some examples of housing discrimination are as follows:

  • Refusing to rent to a family with children under 18.
  • Refusing to rent or sell a home to someone of a particular race, religion or skin color.
  • Targeting a particular group for unfavorable loan terms or deceptive lending practices (predatory lending).
  • Refusing accessible parking or otherwise denying access to the housing accommodation of a person with a disability.
  • Housing advertisements that express a preference for people of a certain race, sex or religion.
  • Making references to the composition of the neighborhood in which a property is listed in order to discourage a home purchase.
  • Treating one tenant less favorably than others in the terms of their rental or in repairing or maintaining property because of their race, religion, sex, or other protected characteristic.
  • Harassment by a landlord based on race, religion, national origin, sex, disability, etc.

Video: Fair Housing & Criminal Record Screening

Fact Sheet: Fair Housing and Criminal Record Screening


fact sheet coverThe Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of seven protected classes including: race, color, national origin, sex, religion, familial status, and disability. Many housing providers screen prospective tenants' criminal histories when deciding whether to rent to them. These checks – even if they seem fair or neutral – often disqualify people of color and people with disabilities from housing opportunities at disproportionately high rates and may constitute illegal discrimination.

Disparate Impact

Nationally, people of color and people with disabilities are arrested, convicted, and incarcerated at disproportionately high rates. Because of this, some policies enacted by housing providers might result in discrimination, even if they seem neutral and are not designed to discriminate.

Let's say a housing provider states on their website that they won't rent to anyone with a felony conviction. This policy does not seem to mention any protected class, but due to the racial and ethnic disparities present at every level of the criminal justice system, this type of a blanket ban will disproportionately limit housing opportunities for Black and Latino applicants.

Insubstantial or illegitimate policies that restrict housing access on the basis of criminal history may violate the Fair Housing Act when such policies have a disparate impact on members of a protected class.

Discriminatory Intent

Sometimes, a housing provider might use a criminal record check as a pretext to intentionally discriminate against an applicant. If a property manager discourages a Black prospect from applying, saying that her criminal history would likely lead to a rejection, and then encourages a White applicant with a comparable criminal history to apply, that would likely constitute illegal race-based discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.

Because these checks are often inaccurate, incomplete, and have no relationship to whether someone will be a good tenant, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recommends that housing providers not screen prospective tenants' criminal histories.

Best Practices

HUD has provided strategies for housing providers who still wish to utilize criminal background checks in a less discriminatory manner. As a best practice, providers should rely on criteria like the applicant’s ability to pay rent, rental history, or personal references.

Housing providers who choose to screen applicants' criminal backgrounds should:

  • Have a written policy that is readily available and serves to protect residents' safety or property.
    • Conditionally accept the prospect's application before screening.
  • Consider whether a conviction occurred – an arrest is not an acceptable reason to deny a person housing.
  • Consider the nature, severity, and timeline of any convictions as well as any rehabilitation efforts.
    • Avoid third-party screening companies that may use biased algorithms.
  • Allow applicants to correct false information.
    • Consider any reasonable accommodation requests related to the screening process.

Video: Lending and Appraisal Bias

Fact Sheet: Fairfax Lending and Appraisal Discrimination


fact sheet coverFor decades, homeownership has represented a path to prosperity and intergenerational wealth-building, but for too many Americans, discrimination in home sales, mortgage lending, and the appraisal process gets in the way.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of seven protected classes including race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, and familial status. The law applies to most housing transactions, including:

  • Buying or selling a home,
  • Applying for a mortgage or home loan,
  • Receiving a property appraisal, and
  • Seeking homeowner’s insurance.

Systemic Racism Negatively Affects Home Values

Homes are valued in part based on the neighborhood in which they are located. Systemic racism has resulted in homes in predominantly white neighborhoods being valued higher than homes located in neighborhoods with higher populations of people of color.

According to data from the U.S. Census, Fairfax County follows national trends, in that, as the number of Black homeowners in an area increases, the average home value goes down. Homes in communities of color are historically undervalued for many reasons, including: discriminatory policing, redlining or reverse redlining, sex discrimination and harassment, discriminatory mortgage pricing, discriminatory denials or underwriting in mortgages, and appraisal bias.

We further see the effects of systemic racism in the homeownership gap between white families and families of color, as well as in the generational wealth gap.

lending bias chart, 2019

Examples of Potential Discrimination:

  • A real estate agent uses racially coded language when speaking about schools or crime to signal the racial makeup of a neighborhood.
  • A bank or mortgage broker steers you to a loan with less favorable terms based on a protected trait, like your race or national origin.
  • An appraiser undervalues your home because it is located in a predominantly Black neighborhood, or because you are a person of color.

How to File a Complaint

To file a complaint, call (703) 324-2953 to be scheduled for an intake appointment via telephone or videoconference.

View the How to File a Complaint webpage for more information on Complaint Procedure and Settling the Case.

2024 Annual Fair Housing Event

Below is a recording of the 2024 Annual Fair Housing Event, which was held on April 25, 2024.  Please click below to view the recording.


Fairfax Virtual Assistant