Applying for housing can feel overwhelming – especially for those with a housing voucher and members of other protected classes. We’ve compiled a range of resources to educate you about your rights as a renter.
We’re here to help guide you through the rental process with tips on best practices when applying for rental housing, and to show you how working with a REALTOR® will improve your chances of securing your next home.
Fair Housing Corner
Your leading resource for navigating the Fair Housing Act.
Income Discrimination FAQ
Are you worried your rights have been violated and your housing is in jeopardy? Check out the Attorney General’s FAQs to help you navigate these situations.
REALTOR® Code of Ethics
REALTORS® are much more than real estate agents – they are bound by a Code of Ethics. So, be sure to ask your agent if they’re a REALTOR®!
Got questions? Find answers.
Q: I think I was discriminated against. What can I do?
Q: I was asked the ages of my kids and was then told there’s lead paint so I couldn’t rent the property. Is that legal?
No, that is illegal in Massachusetts. Any housing that a child resides in must be lead safe and it is the responsibility of the owner to inspect and fix it if necessary. Refusing to rent to families with kids violates both fair housing law and the Massachusetts Lead Law. If your child is under 6 years old, the law requires the landlord to make the apartment lead safe.
Q: I saw an ad that said “no vouchers accepted.” Does that mean I can’t apply if I have a voucher?
In Massachusetts, a person who uses a voucher is a member of a protected class. It is illegal to say, put in print or publish discriminatory language related to a protected class. You should be allowed to apply and show your ability to afford any apartment that meets the requirements of your voucher. Report any ads or landlords violating this law to your caseworker and consider reporting it to the MCAD or a fair housing organization.
Q: I have a voucher. What do I say when I’m asked if I make three times the rent?
If you have a voucher, its value is part of your monthly income. People with vouchers cannot be denied housing based on that criteria. You should have the opportunity to demonstrate that you can afford the apartment.
Q: I have a disability and need a policy change or modification made to my housing. Can I be told no?
Possibly. There has to be a connection between the request and the disability, and the request must be reasonable. A landlord may be allowed to ask for some information related to the request and the disability. But there must be an interactive process – a request cannot simply be ignored or denied if it is connected to your disability and is reasonable. Here are great resources for accommodations:
Q: I was told I had to move out because I am pregnant and the owner thinks there might be lead. Do I have to move?
This is illegal. An owner must make the property lead safe at their own expense.
Q: Is asking if I have a criminal record illegal?
Not necessarily. A landlord can request a criminal background check and credit check ONLY IF the request is being made to ALL applicants – not just because of an applicant’s protected class. However, a landlord that has a policy excluding all those with criminal records is likely violating the Fair Housing Act.
What can I do to protect my rights?
When hunting for an apartment, it’s a good idea to keep thorough records of your interactions for each apartment you look at. When you contact a person about housing, write down their name as well as the date and time you spoke with them.
Also record what you were told about rent, security deposits, fees and documents required to apply. This can be helpful if any of that information changes or if you decide to file a discrimination complaint.
If you suspect you were discriminated against during your rental search or by your housing provider, do not hesitate to seek help. There are many organizations that can provide advice and assistance free of charge.
Please contact your city hall for more information on local resources, or call:
HUD FHEO Region I
Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. Federal Building
10 Causeway Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02222-1092
Phone: (617) 994-8300
Phone: 1(800) 827-5005
TTY (617) 565-5453
MA Commission Against Discrimination
One Ashburton Place
Boston, MA 02108
Phone: (617) 994-6000
TTY: (617) 994-6196
Below, please find some resources that may be helpful as you navigate your rental search as well as your Fair Housing rights and responsibilities:
The Attorney General’s Guide to Landlord and Tenant Rights