Real Estate Terms

Protected Classes in Real Estate: What Real Estate Professionals Need to Know

As you undoubtedly know, we live in a world home to people of all colors, creeds, and walks of life. But you may wonder, “How does this play a role in the real estate world?”

Well, it plays a significant part in passing the real estate exam and succeeding as a real estate professional! To better understand, we must delve into the topic of protected classes. 

There are seven protected classes in real estate that federal fair housing laws are designed to safeguard. Awareness of these protected classes is key to preventing housing discrimination and ensuring equal opportunity for all.

But exactly who is considered a protected class, and how does the Fair Housing Act (FHA) defend them? Keep reading to learn more!

Who Are the 7 Protected Classes in Real Estate?

First, we need to understand which people have protected characteristics that make them vulnerable to housing discrimination. The seven protected classes under the FHA are:

  1. Race
  2. Color
  3. National origin
  4. Religion
  5. Sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity)
  6. Familial status
  7. Disability 

So what does this mean? A real estate professional or landlord cannot deny housing to anyone with these protected characteristics, nor can they treat them differently. To do so would be a violation of the Fair Housing Act and thus against the law. 

Now let’s delve into each protected class for a deeper understanding of how it works!


The FHA protects people of all races. A building superintendent, for example, cannot make racial comments toward a tenant or treat them differently than tenants of other races. 


Denying someone housing assistance due to the color of their skin also violates fair housing law. If a realtor or landlord asks for a photograph from a potential buyer and subsequently denies them, this can indicate housing discrimination.

National Origin

National origin means a person’s birthplace, ancestry, and culture; it is illegal to discriminate against prospective homebuyers because of where they are from. A landlord asking a tenant to verify their immigration status could be considered a form of harassment. 


To deny someone housing or treat them differently because of their religion is a significant violation. For example, if a real estate agent tries to steer a Jewish family away from a particular neighborhood, a legal issue could ensue.

Sex or Gender Identity

A tenant or homebuyer cannot be discriminated against due to sex or gender identity. If a landlord were to sexually harass a tenant or deny housing to someone who is transgender, this would be a violation of the FHA.

Familial Status

Familial status means that families with children below 18 cannot be discriminated against. To deny a family housing, or treat them differently because they have young children, is an example of familial status discrimination.


People with disabilities are also considered a protected class. If an apartment complex is not accessible to tenants in wheelchairs, this violates the FHA. Housing providers must make reasonable accommodations so that disabled people have the same opportunities as non-disabled people.

Now we have a better idea of who the Fair Housing Act protects from discrimination in housing. But exactly what is the Fair Housing Act, and how can we make sure we’re not violating it?

What Is the Fair Housing Act?

Good question! The Fair Housing Act is the law that prohibits discrimination in the buying, selling, renting or financing of housing. This law also commonly goes by the name of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 or Title VIII. 

So how can we ensure we’re doing business on the up and up? The best way to avoid violating the Fair Housing Act is to understand what constitutes as housing discrimination clearly. 

What Are Examples of Housing Discrimination?

While we discussed some examples of discrimination above, check out this comprehensive list to make sure you have all your bases covered:

  • Refusing to show minorities houses in a certain neighborhood
  • Charging higher rent for applicants with children 
  • Offering lower prices/deadline extensions for sexual favors 
  • Renting out a housing unit that is inaccessible to disabled people
  • Refusing to repair a tenant’s unit because they are transgender
  • Harassing a person because of their religious beliefs 
  • Denying protected classes access to amenities or services 
  • Denying that housing is available when it is.

These actions all violate the Fair Housing Act and could get realtors, landlords, and housing providers into serious trouble. 

Who Enforces the Fair Housing Act?

If someone is facing housing discrimination, who are they going to call? Not Ghostbusters! The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is responsible for enforcing fair housing laws and fighting discrimination in housing.

According to the HUD site, violating the Fair Housing Act can result in some hefty fines; $16,000 for a first offense, $37,500 if a previous violation has occurred in the past five years, and $65,000 if two or more violations have occurred in the past seven years. 

But the stakes get even higher than that! In cases where the discriminating party uses force or the threat of force against a protected class, they could potentially even face jail time. 

How Common Is Discrimination in Housing?

You may think, “Great! With all these laws in place, housing discrimination is a thing of the past.” Unfortunately, this is not the case. According to a study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, discrimination in housing remains a widespread issue across the United States. 

This study showed that African American and Hispanic renters received lower response rates from property managers compared to their white counterparts. This is a clear violation of the FHA, as these groups fall under protected classes.

So what can be done to ensure more fair housing opportunities? First, anyone who feels they are a victim of discrimination in housing should file a complaint with the HUD.

But much of the responsibility also falls upon property managers, landlords, and realtors! All housing providers should follow federal fair housing laws and act in good faith. This means that you, a future real estate professional, play an important role in fighting this issue!

Why Is the Fair Housing Act Important for Real Estate Professionals to Know?

Now you may think, “Hey, I would never discriminate against anybody! Why do I need to learn about this?” 

Well, even if real estate professionals do not feel they are being discriminatory, they could still violate the Fair Housing Act and cause a legal issue. This is why it’s crucial to be well-versed in best practices for fair housing; not only will this help you pass the real estate exam, but it could prevent you from getting into hot water down the road. 

Real estate professionals should follow these tips to uphold the FHA:

  • Have a strong understanding of state and federal law
  • Be careful with the language you use in property listings
  • Get ready to be tested at any time
  • Make sure sellers are not violating any protected classes 
  • Treat everyone equally

Are There Other Protected Classes in Real Estate?

Yes! States and cities have their own housing laws, many of which are not backed by the Fair Housing Act. 

Examples of other protected characteristics include:

  • Age
  • Citizenship status
  • Lawful occupation
  • Lawful source of income
  • Marital status
  • Partnership status
  • Status as a veteran or military service member
  • Status as a domestic violence or stalking victim

If any of these protected classes are facing housing discrimination, the federal Fair Housing Act does not cover them. So, for example, a prospective buyer facing marital status discrimination will have to file a state or city lawsuit instead of taking it up with the FHA. 

Now let’s take a closer look at some of these non-FHA protected classes and how they work:


Real estate agents cannot deny housing based on the age of a prospective buyer. If a realtor expresses concerns over someone’s young or older appearance, this could be considered discriminatory and result in legal action. 

Lawful Occupation

As long as a tenant works in a legal profession, a housing provider cannot discriminate against them for their line of work. Even if a landlord has a personal vendetta against musicians, it is not a valid reason to deny them housing in most states.

Marital Status

In some states and cities, marital status discrimination is unlawful. If a landlord says on an apartment listing that they prefer single tenants, they could get in trouble with the law, depending on where they own property. 

Partnership Status

In most states, it is illegal to deny tenants housing based on their partnership status. Denying housing based on a couple’s sexual orientation, for example, is an example of partnership status discrimination.

What Type of Housing Is Not Covered under the Fair Housing Act?

The FHA covers most housing, including houses, apartments, condos, mobile homes, and nursing homes. If it is considered a “dwelling,” chances are the federal Fair Housing Act covers it!

But is there any type of housing not protected under federal housing laws? Yes, and it’s essential to know this information!

Examples of housing not covered by the FHA include

  • Apartment buildings with less than five units
  • Single-family housing sold without a real estate agent
  • Housing belonging to religious organizations 
  • Hotels and motels
  • Private clubs

What to Know for the Real Estate Exam

For the real estate exam, you must be aware of the Fair Housing Act and its protected classes. The Fair Housing Act is the law that prohibits discrimination in the buying, selling, renting or financing of housing.

The seven protected classes under the FHA are Race, Color, National origin, Religion, Sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), Familial status, and Disability.

You may feel like an expert on this subject now, but there is always more to learn in real estate! That’s why we’ve compiled over 255 Real Estate Terms & Flashcards to give you the tools you need to ace the real estate exam! 

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