federal protection

National Origin

the country you or your family came from

National Origin as a Protected Class

Fair housing laws forbid discrimination in housing transactions because of national origin.

Just one example of illegal national origin discrimination presented itself in the form of a Beaverton apartment complex rule stating that residents could not cook with curry in their units. Whether the intention was to mitigate clean up costs (curry use can cause similar clean up issues as tobacco smoke, getting into the carpeting, wallpaper, draperies, etc.); an attempt to deal with neighbors' complaints about the strong odor of the spice wafting into common areas; or an attempt to deter those strong odor of the spice wafting into common areas; or an attempt to deter those from India from living there is not clear.

All are real possibilities but the intention is not key. Key to this story is the fact that an individual or family from India might or other Middle Eastern counties might likely cook with curry on any given day thanthose from other cultures. It just so happens there is a rather high proportion of people of Indian descent in the Beaverton area. Whether the apartment complex intended to or not, their no-curry-rule disproportionately impacted people of one or more nations of origin over others and was, therefore illegal. In this particular case, the apartment management was pleased to eliminate the rule when we brought its impact to their attention.

It should be noted, also, that language is not in and of itself a protected class. However, it often has a lot to do with the county from which one originates. To that end, all reasonable efforts should be made to assist individuals speaking English as a second language within any housing-related transaction. For those housing providers who receive federal funds to subsidize the cost of their housing, HUD has specifically made Limited English Proficiency (LEP) requirements. While this is not true in the private housing market, many of the LEP tips and tools offered may be of value to any housing provider. You can learn more at www.FHCO.org/lep.htm.

Following are some common questions and useful resources related to national origin as a protected class.

Contents of This Page:

We hope you will also visit our Translations page at www.FHCO.org/translations.htm should you or someone you know be helped by translated documents and videos. You may also be interested in the following interactive tools translated into multiple languages:

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What Does "National Origin" Protection Mean?

Your national origin refers to your birthplace, ancestry, language, and/or customs. It is illegal for a landlord to deny housing or treat someone differently in a housing transaction because:

  • Of a person's name, appearance, accent, or participation in customs associated with a nationality.
  • The landlord incorrectly perceives the person as being associated with a particular nationality.
  • The person associates with people of a particular national origin.

Fair housing laws apply to rental housing, home sales, home lending, home insurance, and advertising. No one can deny housing, limit access to housing, discourage someone seeking a home or create different rules, fees, or standards because of the national origin of a household.

Some typical examples of discrimination based on national origin include steering tenants of a particular national origin to one section of an apartment complex, refusing to make repairs to units occupied by people of a particular national origin, or prohibiting or limiting a tenant's guests because of the national origin of the tenant or his/her guests.

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Can a Housing Provider Discriminate Against People Who Do Not Speak English?

No. However, there is no legal requirement for landlords to provide translation for their tenants. If a tenant does not speak English, it is up to the housing consumer to find someone to help him/her communicate with a landlord. In order to be clear on what their rights and responsibilities are, tenants who do not speak fluent English should get help reading their rental agreement from a trusted family member or friend before they sign it. It is also good to prepare a list of names and phone numbers of translators to give to the landlord.

Federally funded properties may be required to provide translated documents and / or a translator in foreign languages under the HUD's Limited English Proficiency (LEP) regulations.

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Can a Landlord Require a Social Security Number from a Prospective Tenant?

Landlords often use one's social security number to check past rental, credit, and criminal history. Using a social security number as part of a background check on a prospective tenant is considered a standard rental practice. It is okay to do with a couple caveats: 1) The landlord requires a social security number from all prospective tenants and 2) The landlord is willing to consider alternative forms of identification including ITIN numbers, work visas, etc.

If a landlord is requiring social security numbers only from tenants of a particular national origin, that would constitute a fair housing violation. If a tenant does not have a social security number, the landlord should accept a work visa number or student visa number. Tenants should never use a false social security number.

For additional suggestions on how to verify an individuals identity and history without a social security number please refer to our Alternative Documents handout in PDF format at www.FHCO.org/pdfs/SuggestedAltDocs.pdf.


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What Recourse Do Residents Have if Others Harass Them Because of their National Origin?

If both parties are associated with the same housing provider (IE: the landlord rents to both parties), the housing provider has a legal responsibility to protect residents from being harassed based on their national origin, just as with any other protected class. If a housing consumer is harassed because of his/her national origin and the landlord is aware of this harassment, the landlord has the responsibility to intervene. All tenants have the legal right to peaceful enjoyment of their homes. Continued harassment could be grounds for evicting the offending tenant.

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Do Fair Housing Laws Apply to US Citizens Only?

It is not illegal to rent to an undocumented individual; housing is different than employment laws. Anyone living in the United States has fair housing protections. If someone is living in the US illegally, they still have the right to file a fair housing complaint but may choose not to since the information will become public record. Any person calling the Fair Housing Council will receive confidential information and assistance.

You may recall a number of communities across the country attempted to make renting to those in the country without proper documentation illegal. Visit www.FHCO.org/pdfs/news/NEWS_Judge strikes down Hazleton laws on illegal immigrants.pdf to read the resolution on one of the most prominent cases.

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Where Can I Learn More?

Visit our FAQs page at www.FHCO.org/faqs.htm and Links page at www.FHCO.org/links.htm, as well as our Translations page at www.FHCO.org/translations.htm.

Contact us at 800/424-3247 or information@FHCO.org. Please note, the FHCO offers translation assistance. For any languages we can’t accommodate with bilingual staff, we utilize the services of the AT&T Language Line or similar service. Such services make translators available to us via a three-way party line in over 160 languages.

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Interesting Articles and Additional Resources:

"Thank You"

The FHCO would like to thank our partners and members for their support.
Their contributions and grants have helped to make the resources on this site possible.
Please join them in supporting our efforts!

If you have a fair housing question, or to report a fair housing complaint, please call 503/223-8197 Ext. 2 or 800/424-3247 Ext. 2 (TTY and translation available). Alternatively, you may call HUD at 800/877-0246.

Office Location:

1221 SW Yamhill Avenue #305, Portland, Oregon 97205
information@FHCO.org .| .503/223-8197 .| .Hotline 800/424-3247 Ext. 2

The work that provided the basis for this publication was supported by funding under a grant with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The substance and findings of the work are dedicated to the public. The author and the publisher are solely responsible for the accuracy of the statements and interpretations contained in this publication. Such interpretations do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Government.

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