The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has issued several new guidelines and rulings to the Fair Housing Act, a law passed in 1968 that prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability or family status.

These new guidelines clarify certain actions or policies by landlords, property managers, real estate agents or lenders that could be classified as discrimination against those protected under the act. HUD has the ability to charge violators or have the U.S. Department of Justice take on a case on behalf of the complainant. Those who violate the law could be required to pay damages to the complainant, as well as pay civil penalties and punitive damages.

The law applies to all aspects of housing. "It's not just landlords but also lenders," says Amy Glassman, an attorney focused on real estate and housing and partner at Ballard Spahr in Washington. This means lenders will have to be able to translate forms and allow for interpreters in meetings, which may have been an obstacle that previously kept non-English speakers from obtaining a mortgage.

While the new guidelines may seem explicit, they remain open-ended in many ways. "It's very hard to establish a regulation and spell out every single circumstance," Glassman says. One example she notes is in the final rule regarding quid pro quo harassment. The rule places responsibility on the housing provider for incidents of tenant-on-tenant harassment where there is reasonable "power to correct" the situation.

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