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What to Do If You Suspect Housing Discrimination

Minnesota tenants facing housing discrimination must act fast to protect their rights

Housing discrimination can be very hard to judge, as a landlord might have a valid reason for denying a tenant’s application to rent or enforcing a lease provision. Many times, this conduct is not discrimination. But often, there is no way to be sure. Thus, rental applicants and tenants are forced to act on their suspicions to enforce the law.

If you have a suspicion your application was wrongfully denied, or that lease terms are being enforced differently on you compared to other tenants, you have options.

Who is protected from discrimination?

Minnesota’s renters are protected by both the federal Fair Housing Act and the Minnesota Human Rights Act, as well as city code in the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The laws are very similar, though the Minnesota laws go further than the federal laws of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development—protecting more classes of people from housing discrimination based on their:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Creed
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Sex
  • Marital status
  • Receipt of public assistance
  • Disability
  • Sexual orientation
  • Familial status

These persons are referred to as protected classes of people. Within the city of St. Paul, age is also a protected class of people.

How does a landlord discriminate?

Under Minnesota law, landlords and their real estate agents cannot refuse to rent to persons based on their protected statuses. Landlords and their agents cannot discriminate against any person or groups of persons from protected classes in the terms, conditions or privileges of a rental lease. Also, the landlord or their agent cannot discriminate against any person or groups of persons from protected classes by expressing, directly or indirectly, any limitation, specification or discrimination within any:

  • advertisement for the real property
  • application for the real property
  • inquiry of the applicant or prospective tenant

Exceptions to the local laws

There are exceptions for some specific property owners. An owner renting out their own home can deny tenants based on their sex (i.e. gender identity), marital status, receipt of public assistance, sexual orientation or disability. Also, nonprofit residences can discriminate based on sex.

Landlords can deny applicants with children in some cases, too. If the rental is within an owner-occupied duplex, triplex or fourplex, the owner is not required to accept children. Also, if the rental is within a senior-only facility, the owner is not required to accept children—as, to be a senior-only facility, state law requires 80% of residents to be age 55 or older.  

What conduct could be illegal discrimination?

There are some common signs applicants should look for when judging whether conduct is discriminatory. Perhaps the most common is an applicant being told a rental is not available soon after the rental is listed. However, there are many more signs a landlord’s conduct might be discriminatory, including:

  • Telling applicants that they don’t take tenants on public assistance
  • Telling applicants that they don’t take kids but do not appear to be an eligible senior-only facility
  • Telling applicants that they won’t make reasonable accommodations for their disability

Accepted applicants may face discrimination once they become a tenant, as well. Signs of discrimination toward tenants could be enforcement of lease terms differently on some tenants compared to others, or tenant repair requests receiving lower priority than other tenants.

What to do when you experience possible housing discrimination?

Discrimination at the application stage requires the victim to act fast to determine whether the landlord is treating some applicants differently. The Minnesota Department of Human Rights conducts investigations into potential housing discrimination cases. If you suspect discrimination, a victim can file a complaint with the department, and if the department finds discrimination occurred, it will issue a report finding probable cause to believe the property owner discriminated.

However, to receive damages from a landlord that commits housing discrimination, a victim must pursue a civil rights lawsuit in federal or state court. Sometimes the state attorney general may take the case, but often victims must seek out a civil rights attorney. There are many advantages to consulting with an attorney prior to filing a complaint with the department. Victims should seek out an experienced Minnesota civil rights attorney as early in the process as possible. 

For more information on this area of law, see our overviews on discrimination and landlord/tenant law.

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