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The following information is adapted from an outline prepared under the Fair Housing Initiatives Program, a joint project of Way Finders and the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center.

Protected Classes

Under federal and state fair housing laws, it can be illegal to discriminate against someone in the sale or rental of housing because of that person's membership in one of the following protected classes.

  • Race                                
  • Color
  • National Origin
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Families with Children
  • Disability
  • Marital Status
  • Age
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Gender Identity and Expression
  • Military or Veteran Status
  • Ancestry
  • Public Assistance
  • Housing Subsidies or Rental Assistance
  • Genetic Information

Discriminatory Acts

Discriminatory acts can include the following.

  • Refusing to rent to someone based on the fact that the applicant is a member of a protected category.
  • Making discriminatory statements or placing an ad that indicates intent to discriminate.
  • Enquiring about a protected category.
  •  “Steering” an applicant by choosing to only show him or her apartments in areas where other members of that protected category live.

Properties Covered

The following types of properties are covered under Fair Housing Laws:

  • All residential properties are covered by state and federal fair housing laws.
  • There are limited exemptions to some of the fair housing requirements:
    • Owner-occupied duplexes rented without the use of a broker.
    • Two- or three-family buildings where the presence of young children would present a significant hardship for residents who are infirm and/or 65+.
  • There are no exemptions for race, national origin or receipt of housing assistance.
  • There are no exemptions for discriminatory statements and advertisements.
  • In certain situations, there also may be no exemptions for sex and disability.

Families with Children and Lead Paint

  • It is illegal to refuse to rent to a family with a child under the age of six based on the presence of lead paint in the rental unit.
  • Massachusetts Lead Paint Law requires removal/covering of lead paint hazards, including loose lead paint and lead paint on windows, in homes built before 1978 where children under the age of six live. Owners are responsible with complying with the law.
  • The Federal Renovation, Repair and Painting law requires use of workers trained in lead-safe practices if they disturb more than 6 sq. ft. interior surface – or 20 sq. ft. exterior surface – with lead paint. 

State Occupancy Standards

  • Every dwelling unit should have 150 square feet of floor space for first occupant; 100 square feet for each additional occupant.
  • Rooms used for sleeping purposes shall contain at least 70 square feet for the first occupant and 50 square feet per person for two or more occupants.

Rental Assistance and Public Assistance

  • It is illegal to refuse to rent to someone because they receive rental assistance.
  • It is illegal to state a discriminatory preference against someone participating in a housing subsidy program – e.g. “Section 8 need not apply.”

Senior or Retirement Housing

  • Owners of housing intended for persons 55 and over or 62 and over must register once every two years with the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities (EOHLC).
  • Housing intended for persons 55 and over or 62 and over must comply with Federal requirements.


  • People are considered disabled (termed “handicapped” in some regulations) if they have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (i.e. caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, etc.).
  • Reasonable Accommodations are changes in rules or policies to accommodate an individual’s disabilities.  Property owners and managers must make accommodations for disabled individuals. But the accommodations must be reasonable and should not place an undue and excessive financial or administrative burden on them.
  • Housing providers must allow persons with disabilities to make reasonable modifications, generally at the expense of the tenant, unless the property is publicly funded or is comprised of 10+ units. Reasonable Modifications include structural modifications to accommodate disabilities - e.g. inserting a ramp or grab bars.

Domestic Violence

  • The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) protects victims who are residing in public housing that is federally funded.
  • This act makes it illegal for a landlord to evict an individual on the basis of domestic violence, stalking, or dating violence; and allows landlords to evict the abuser.
  • Individuals claiming protection under VAWA have to provide documentation of occurrence of domestic violence if requested by the Public Housing Authority or landlord within 14 days.
  • Under Massachusetts law, specific protections are provided to individuals who are victims of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault and stalking, including right to break a lease or have locks changed with proper documentation; and to not be evicted or refused as an applicant to an apartment based on use of their rights.
  • Other state Federal fair housing laws & state anti-discrimination laws can also grant some protection to victims of domestic violence, stalking, dating violence, or sexual assault.

Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI)

Applicants for housing have a right to obtain a copy of their own CORI, attempt to correct mistakes on their CORI, and seek to have one or more of their records sealed (after 10 years for felonies and 5 years for misdemeanors).  An applicant should never give a copy of their CORI to a housing provider. Housing providers must get a release signed by applicant to pull CORI.

Any housing provider can get a CORI to evaluate an applicant for rental or lease of housing. A housing provider will be able to see felony convictions for 10 years and misdemeanor convictions for 5 years following incarceration/custody or disposition of the case, and pending criminal charges, including cases continued without a finding.

Under Federal public housing regulations: A Housing Authority may deny applicants “whose habits and practices reasonably may be expected to have a detrimental effect on the residents or the project environment.”   A Housing Authority must deny an application if it finds that:

  • A household member is currently engaged in illegal use of drugs.
  • It has reasonable cause to believe a household member’s abuse of alcohol may threaten the health and safety of other residents.
  • A household member is subject to a lifetime registration requirement under a state sex offender registration program, was convicted of methamphetamine production in federally-assisted housing, or was evicted from federally-assisted housing for drug-related criminal activity.

Applications for state public housing may be denied for various reasons. State aided programs must screen out all those whose past behavior, if repeated, would violate the lease (e.g. threatening others, criminal activity affecting housing or illegal drug use). An applicant’s CORI should only be checked when the housing authority decides that individual is otherwise qualified to be a tenant. Applicants have a right to a hearing if denied.

Individuals with a negative CORI report arising from a disability, such as former substance abusers, may be entitled to have their CORI report be overlooked as a reasonable accommodation to their disability. 

Fair Housing Initiatives Program

The Fair Housing Initiatives Program, funded under a grant from the United states Department of Housing and Urban development, works to educate everyone about their rights and responsibilities under the fair housing laws and to bring communities together to strengthen the fight against discrimination by:

  • Conducting educational workshops on fair housing issues.
  • Investigating claims of housing discrimination.
  • Providing free legal assistance to the victims of discrimination.
  • Working closely with city governments and housing providers on fair housing issues.
  • Educating everyone about their rights and responsibilities.

For further information

For more information on your rights under the Fair Housing Laws, contact the Fair Housing Information Program at Way Finders.                                          

Fair Housing Information Program
Way Finders
1780 Main Street
Springfield, MA 01103

Phone: 413-233-1609
Fax: 413-787-1797
TDD: 413-233-1699