What to Do If You Suspect Housing Discrimination

Federal and state fair housing laws protect Minnesota residents from housing discrimination

By Doug Mentes, Esq. | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on January 31, 2024

Use these links to jump to different sections:

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, tenants, and homebuyers 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 and homeowners 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 enforced by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by protecting more classes of people from housing discrimination based on their:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Sex
  • Gender identity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Creed
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Marital status
  • Receipt of public assistance
  • Disability
  • 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 realtors cannot refuse to rent to persons based on their protected statuses.

Landlords and their real estate 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 real estate agents 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; or
  • Inquiry of the applicant or prospective tenant

Are There Exceptions to Local Laws?

There are exceptions for some specific property owners:

  • A homeowner 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.
  • 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 percent 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 or other lawful sources of income;
  • Telling applicants that they don’t take kids but do not appear to be an eligible senior-only housing provider;
  • Telling applicants that they won’t make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities.

Accepted applicants may face discrimination once they become a tenant, as well. Signs of discrimination toward tenants could be the 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 fair housing 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 who 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.

Find an Experienced Civil Rights Lawyer

There are many advantages to consulting with an attorney prior to filing a discrimination complaint with the department to protect your fair housing rights.

To begin your search, visit the Super Lawyers’ directory to locate an experienced Minnesota civil rights attorney. For more information on this area of law, see our overviews on discrimination law and related content on landlord/tenant law.

What do I do next?

Enter your location below to get connected with a qualified attorney today.
Popular attorney searches: Civil Rights Employment & Labor

Related topics

Find top lawyers with confidence

The Super Lawyers patented selection process is peer influenced and research driven, selecting the top 5% of attorneys to the Super Lawyers lists each year. We know lawyers and make it easy to connect with them.

Find a lawyer near you