National Origin, Immigration Status, & Limited English Proficiency

National Origin, Immigration Status, & Limited English Proficiency

Every person in the United States is protected by the Fair Housing Act. A person’s immigration status does not affect his or her fair housing rights. It is illegal to discriminate against someone because of their own or ancestral place of origin or because of their cultural or ethnic background or language. It is illegal to discriminate against someone who appears to be of a certain ethnic background, even if they are not. Different terms and conditions, such as requiring a higher security deposit or a cosigner for someone who is not a citizen, are illegal as is intimidation or interference with a person’s fair housing rights, including threats to report an individual to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement if they make a complaint of housing discrimination.

A common misconception is that it is unlawful to rent housing to an undocumented immigrant. This is not true. Local ordinances which prohibit or restrict renting to undocumented immigrants violate the Fair Housing Act.

Landlords are allowed to request identity documentation and conduct inquiries to determine whether a potential renter meets the criteria for rental, as long as the same process is applied to all potential renters. Singling out individuals to provide information regarding their immigration status because of their national origin is unlawful discrimination. For example, asking only Mexican immigrants for proof of immigration status and not asking the same documentation of other applicants is a violation the Fair Housing Act.

Requiring that all applicants have a social security number disproportionately excludes prospective tenants based on national origin. While landlords are permitted to request social security numbers in order to do credit and background checks, landlords must also accept an Individual Taxpayer Number (ITN) or other alternative verification method in lieu of a social security number. Conditional residents and Nonimmigrants (persons residing in the U.S. on a temporary basis) may have ITN numbers rather than social security numbers.

Additionally, it is illegal to discriminate against someone because they have limited proficiency in English. Statements such as “all tenants must speak English” or treating tenants differently because their English is not proficient violates the law. Programs that receive federal funds have an additional responsibility to provide interpreters and translators for individuals who are not proficient in English.

It is unlawful to advertise a preference, bias, or limitation based on national origin. For example, advertising a rental unit only in Chinese or Russian implies that you prefer to rent to individuals who speak these languages or originate from these countries and is a violation of fair housing laws.

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