April 7, 2015

Housing Discrimination Because of HIV/AIDS Is Illegal

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Photo: Fair Housing logo with HIV/AIDS red awareness ribbon.

People living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) face a number of challenges that are often amplified by stigma and discrimination associated with the virus.  To many, discrimination acts as a barrier to meeting basic needs like shelter.That’s why HUD’s Office of HIV/AIDS Housing, which administers the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) program, and its Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) have collaborated to provide information on housing discrimination because of HIV/AIDS.

We hope that by providing information about what constitutes housing discrimination because of HIV/AIDS and about how to file a complaint under the Fair Housing Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, we can begin to reduce the number of instances of discrimination encountered by persons living with, or perceived to be living with HIV/AIDS.

Every year, HUD investigates complaints alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status.  HUD also investigates complaints alleging violations of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in any program or activity that receives federal financial assistance from HUD or in programs conducted by HUD.

For example, a HUD-funded public housing authority and a HUD-funded non-profit developer of low income housing are recipients of federal financial assistance and each would be subject to Section 504’s non-discrimination requirements.  Individuals with disabilities, including HIV/AIDS, are protected from discrimination by the Fair Housing Act and Section 504.

The Fair Housing Act and HUD’s Section 504 regulation define a person with a disability as:

  • A person with a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of that person’s major life activities;
  • A person who has a record of having such an impairment; or
  • A person who is regarded as having such an impairment.

PLWHA need not be symptomatic in order to file a complaint of discrimination under the Fair Housing Act or Section 504.  These laws also prohibit disability discrimination because a person has a record of having HIV/AIDS or is regarded as having the disease regardless of the accuracy of the record or belief of the discriminator.  In addition, it is important to note that housing discrimination because of HIV or AIDS can affect persons other than PLWHA.  For example, if a PLWHA is denied housing because of HIV/AIDS, the entire household can be affected. These household members may also have a claim of discrimination under the Fair Housing Act or Section 504.

FHEO has received numerous complaints of housing discrimination because of HIV/AIDS.  In an effort to draw more attention to the issue and make the law clear, the General Deputy Assistant Secretary for FHEO wrote about these complaints in a blog last year.  Housing discrimination because of HIV or AIDS is illegal. This includes the unlawful denial of housing or access to housing and housing related services. 

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in many different types of dwellings and, unlike Section 504, applies regardless of federal funding.  Such housing may include single-family homes, apartments, condominiums, nursing homes, assisted living centers, group homes, homeless shelters occupied or intended for occupancy as a residence, and school dormitories.

The following are examples of conduct that violate the Fair Housing Act when taken because of disability, including HIV/AIDS:

  • Refusing to rent or sell housing
  • Refusing to negotiate for housing
  • Otherwise making housing unavailable or denying housing
  • Setting different terms, conditions, or privileges for sale or rental of housing
  • Providing different housing services or facilities
  • Falsely denying that housing is available for inspection, sale, or rental
  • For profit, persuading owners to sell or rent housing (blockbusting)
  • Making financing unavailable, or setting different terms or conditions of the financing
  • Denying anyone access to, or membership in, a facility or service (such as a multiple listing service) related to the sale or rental of housing
  • Refusing to make reasonable accommodations in rules or services if necessary for the person to use the housing
  • Refusing to allow the person to make reasonable modifications to his/her dwelling
  • Threatening, coercing, intimidating or interfering with anyone in his or her exercise or enjoyment of housing, or because he or she aided or encouraged any other person in exercising or enjoying such rights
  • Retaliating against a person for making a fair housing complaint

More information on fair housing rights can be found in the Fair Housing Act and on HUD’s webpage for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

HUD’s website also provides information about Section 504 and about the Section 504 complaint process.

In addition, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in services, programs, and activities provided by State and local government entities, which generally include public housing agencies.  Title III of the ADA covers public and common use areas, such as rental offices, at housing developments when these public areas are open to the general public.

Further, some state or local laws offer legal protections based on additional protected characteristics, such as source of income.   If you or someone you know is experiencing housing discrimination because of HIV/AIDS or another protected characteristic, you can file a complaint online or contact HUD by phone:

1-800-669-9777 (voice)

1-800-927-9275 (TTY)

You may also contact the nearest HUD office.  You have one year after the alleged discrimination occurred or ended to file a Fair Housing Act complaint with HUD and generally 180 days to file a Section 504 complaint, but you should file it as soon as possible.

Learn more now:

Fair Housing Act – Basic Facts

How to File a Housing Discrimination Complaint with HUD

How to File a Section 504 Complaint with HUD

Blog Post: Individuals Living with HIV/AIDS Fight Back Against Housing Discrimination

Department of Justice – HIV/AIDS Discrimination

FAQs on HIV/AIDS Discrimination

How to File a Complaint of HIV/AIDS Discrimination with the Department of Justice

Lisa Steinhauer is a Management Analyst in the Office of HIV/AIDS Housing.

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