If you’re a homebuyer in Tennessee, you need to know your rights. Understanding them protects you and helps you navigate the entire process more successfully.
The Tennessee Fair Housing Act was passed to give everyone an equal opportunity to secure a place to live. It prohibits discrimination against you because of your race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. w
Who must abide?
There are certain people to whom the Fair Housing Act pertains regarding housing.
If a person owns a complex of more than four units and doesn’t live on the property, owns more than three houses, and/or is advertising a property for rent, they are required to follow the fair housing laws.
- Property Managers
An individual or business that manages a condo complex, apartment building, or home rentals is required to abide by the Fair Housing Act.
- Sales Managers
Sometimes a condominium complex will employ a salesperson to market its units. This individual must follow the Fair Housing Act and not act in a discriminatory way toward those who are protected by it.
- Condominium Associations
Associations may need to approve any new resident before they are allowed to move in. While they can weigh other factors, they cannot use the factors protected by the Fair Housing Act to reach their decision about providing housing.
The law also applies to financial institutions, real estate brokers, builders, operations, developers, and insurance agents.
Who is exempt?
The Fair Housing Act doesn’t reach everyone involved in housing. A small landlord who owns three or fewer houses, or one that owns a complex of four or fewer units and lives on the property, is exempt from the Act.
What are some examples of discrimination?
There are several ways a person can be discriminated against when they are trying to find housing. A few of the more common discriminatory actions that affect homebuyers are:
If a real estate agent only shows a protected class homebuyer houses in neighborhoods picked because of their protected class (for example, showing a black couple homes only in predominantly black neighborhoods), this is discrimination. Another form of steering is when the agent discourages a buyer from purchasing in certain subdivisions or neighborhoods by exaggerating the negative aspects of the area and playing down the positives. In a nutshell, showing houses based on the person’s protected class status.
Prospective renters and homeowners both go through certain screening during the decision process. Renters submit to background checks, and homeowners agree to credit and employment checks. These are both allowed, as long as they are consistent. If a landlord or a lender only screens certain segments of the population, or screens them more stringently, those actions are discriminating against that person or group of people.
There are still sections of every city and town where the residents are primarily one race or ethnicity. Lenders and real estate agents who are unwilling to sell homes in certain locations because the area is populated with certain minorities or ethnicities is a discriminatory action under the Fair Housing Act.
- Reverse redlining
When the parties involved in the lending process, like the lender or real estate agent, charge minorities and other protected classes more fees, higher prices, or unfair mortgage terms, this is called reverse redlining. It’s also part of a bigger issue widely known as predatory lending.
What should you do if you are discriminated against?
If you live in Tennessee and think you’ve been a victim of housing discrimination, you can file a complaint with the Tennessee Human Rights Commission (THRC). Keep in mind there’s a window of time to file, which is 180 days after the last act of discrimination. Once they receive it, the THRC will investigate your complaint to determine if there’s enough cause to believe a violation of the Fair Housing Act occurred. If so, you may be entitled to administrative or court action for recovery of damages. If there’s cause found, you must file a lawsuit within a year after the last act of discrimination, or you lose the right to do so.
Everyone should expect access to equal and fair housing, and the state of Tennessee is committed to make certain everyone receives it. Knowing that discrimination does exist helps you to know what to watch for during your homebuying journey. If you experience it, take proper action to protect yourself and your family.