You’re thinking of moving to a new home in Texas, and you’re concerned about fair housing. You want the opportunity to buy, rent or insure a home in Texas—regardless of who you are or where you’re from.
The Texas Fair Housing Act protects you from people who might try to take those opportunities away from you. We’ll teach you what this law covers, how to spot housing discrimination, and what to do if someone breaks the rules.
Let’s get started.
What Is Fair Housing?
Fair housing means anyone can buy, rent or insure a home without discrimination. Why does that matter? Because housing discrimination ruled the real estate market for a long time.
Landlords could refuse to rent to you because of things like your race, country of origin or faith. Homeowners could refuse to sell you a house if they didn’t like who you were or where you came from. Lenders could deny you a mortgage. Even if you did manage to buy a home, insurance agents could refuse to insure it.
Then came Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968—aka the Fair Housing Act (FHA). This law banned housing discrimination and made fair housing the rule.
Does Texas Have Fair Housing Laws?
Texas has its own fair housing law, the Texas Fair Housing Act (TFHA). It’s a lot like the regular FHA. The main differences are that it’s a little more specific than the federal law and that Texas has its own way of handling complaints.
The Texas Workforce Commission’s Civil Rights Division enforces the TFHA. And the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs creates fair housing opportunities.
Some Texas communities have extra fair housing laws. Since we’re looking at the state level, you’ll want to check with your city to learn the rules there.
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What the Texas Fair Housing Act Covers
The TFHA protects your rights to live in the housing you want. That includes:
- Renting or buying a home
- Renting or buying vacant land
- Taking out a mortgage
- Buying property insurance
And no one can discriminate against you for your:
- National origin
- Familial status
Fair Housing Based on Familial Status
Some protected things—like race or religion—are pretty clear-cut. But as we all see at Thanksgiving, family can get complicated.
Familial status refers to what type of family situation you’re in. Under Texas housing laws, no one can discriminate against you for:
- Being pregnant
- Being a single parent
- Having kids under 18
- Trying to get custody of kids under 182
Fair Housing for People With Disabilities
According to the TFHA, a disability is a physical or mental condition that severely limits at least one major life activity.3 Some examples include using a wheelchair, having a chronic illness, or struggling with PTSD.
And this rule doesn’t just apply to you. It applies to anyone who lives in your home—like a child, spouse or adult relative—or visits you there.
What the Texas Fair Housing Act Doesn’t Cover
The Texas Fair Housing Act does a lot to help people, but there are still some loopholes in the law. Technically, people can still discriminate based on:
- Marital status – It sounds wild, but a landlord in Texas can actually turn you away for being single. Or for being married, if they hate love.
- Income source – Mortgage lenders can turn down your loan application if they think you won’t make enough or if they think you’re at high risk to lose your job and not be able to pay them back.
- Sexual orientation – While some states have fair housing laws for this, Texas doesn’t.
- Certain criminal convictions – If you’ve been convicted of making or selling drugs in any state, you can get turned down to rent or buy a home in Texas.
- Drug or illegal substance addiction – Addiction impairs people’s lives, but it isn’t a legal disability. So the TFHA doesn’t protect someone with a known drug addiction.4
- Threat of harm – If a disabled person poses a direct threat to the neighbors’ health, safety, or property, the landlord or seller can turn them away.5
Texas Fair Housing Act Exemptions
You’ve heard the phrase, “There’s an exception to every rule.” Well, that applies to fair housing too. We’ve talked about the areas the law doesn’t cover, but these are the exceptions to the areas the law does cover.
Certain Single-Family Home Sales
Home sellers and landlords don’t have to follow the Texas Fair Housing act if they:
- Own fewer than four dwellings
- Sell fewer than four dwellings in two years
- Don’t hire a real estate agent
- Don’t advertise the dwelling6
Basically, you can only sell or rent to whoever you want if you make a word-of-mouth deal once in a while. If you want to be a full-time landlord, flip houses, or work with a real estate agent, you have to abide by the TFHA.
Owner-Occupied, Multifamily Homes With Four or Fewer Units
This one’s a mouthful. Let’s say you own a building with four apartments in it. You live in one apartment, and you rent out the other three for extra income. In that case, you can choose whoever you want to live there.
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But if there are five apartments or more? You have to obey the TFHA. (This rule’s to keep big leasing companies and housing communities from discriminating.)
Religious Groups and Private Clubs
Some for-profit and nonprofit religious groups own homes or apartments. They can limit the sale or rental of those dwellings to only people of the same religion. Or they can give people of their religion preference over other people.
Private clubs that own dwellings for noncommercial purposes can make them members only.7 But since clubs can’t keep you out based on national origin, sex and so on, you can join the club to live in one of their homes. (Then again, do you really want to live in a snooty members-only neighborhood?)
When someone appraises a property for you, they can’t lie about its value to discourage you from buying it. Especially if they’re discriminating against anything the Texas Fair Housing Act protects.
Housing for Older People
The TFHA has clear rules about family status. But some housing communities are designed specifically for seniors, so they don’t have to let young families move in.8
For safety reasons, many states and cities have maximum occupancy laws that limit how many people can live in a home or apartment. If your family exceeds that amount, then the seller or landlord can turn you away.9
What Are Discriminatory Housing Practices in Texas?
Now you know what fair housing is and how the Texas Fair Housing Act protects it. But how do you recognize housing discrimination? Here’s how.
Rental and Sale Discrimination
If you’re trying to rent or buy a home in Texas, then the landlord or current home seller can’t do any of the following:
- Refuse to rent or sell you a home because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, family status or disability
- Refuse to negotiate with you after you make a valid offer, for any of those reasons
- Offer you different services, terms or facilities than other prospective tenants or buyers
- Make or use ads—like brochures, videos or social media posts—that spell out (or hint at) preferences, limits or discrimination
- Tell you the home can’t be inspected for rent or sale when it really can
- Try to get other people to discriminate against you
- Play into other people’s prejudices to make a profit—like a real estate agent steering clients to a more expensive neighborhood where most residents are of the same race
Disabled people get all the protections we just talked about. But they also get a few extra protections:
- Common areas, doors, halls, bathrooms, kitchens and environmental controls (like thermostats and light switches) have to be accessible for disabled people in multifamily dwellings occupied after March 1991.10
- Landlords can’t deny you the right to make reasonable modifications to the dwelling so you can use it fully. But they can refuse to pay for it. Under the Texas Fair Housing Act, you must cover the cost of any modifications you need. (You may also have to pay to remove those modifications before you move out.)11
- Landlords and community associations must make reasonable exceptions to the rules for disabled people. For instance, they have to let a veteran who has PTSD keep a service dog in a pet-free apartment.
No one in the real estate business can deny you services or block transactions based on your race, color, religion, sex, national origin or disability.
And when we say no one, we mean no one. Not real estate agents, landlords, home sellers, mortgage lenders, appraisers, insurance agents—nobody. They all have to follow these rules.
So, what does it look like when they break the rules? Here are a few examples:
- An insurance agent can’t deny you renters insurance or homeowners insurance—and they can’t upcharge you, either.
- If you’re looking at a house, the appraiser can’t lie about how much it’s worth to discourage you from buying it.
- Mortgage lenders can’t refuse to give you a loan based on any protected statuses. As long as you meet their financial standards, they have to let you get a mortgage.
- Lenders can’t offer you different loan terms than they would give another customer in your financial situation.
- Real estate agents can’t refuse to work with you or try to talk you into a bad deal because of who you are or where you’re from. (Now, if you got a crummy real estate agent, they might try to talk you into a bad deal because they suck at their job. But that’s a whole other ball of wax.)
How to File a Housing Discrimination Complaint in Texas
If you think someone has discriminated against you, you have a couple options for handling it. You can file a complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), or you can sue the other person in civil court.
Filing a Complaint With the TWC
The TWC investigates housing discrimination complaints. They’ll work with you and the person you complained about (aka the respondent) to find a solution. Here’s how it works.
You submit a written complaint within one year of the alleged discrimination.
To file a complaint, go to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs website. It tells you how to file complaints with the state, some Texas cities, and even the federal government.
The TWC gives the other person a chance to respond.
The TWC has 20 days to send the respondent a copy of your complaint. Then the respondent has 10 days to reply in writing.12
The TWC investigates.
The TWC has 100 days to investigate your complaint, starting the day it’s filed.13 And they may add people to the complaint as they get more info. If you complain about a home seller but they think the real estate agent is guilty, they’ll go after both parties.
The TWC recommends how to resolve the complaint.
The TWC usually resolves complaints in one of four ways:
- Conciliation agreement – This document describes how the respondent will fix the situation.
- Handing the case over – The Texas Attorney General (AG) takes cases with complex land use or zoning issues. The AG will also take your case if someone threatened you—they can even help you get a restraining order.
- Dismissal – The TWC can throw out a complaint if they think there’s no discrimination. They can also dismiss it if they can’t finish investigating within a year. (After 100 days, they have to give you a written reason for the delay.)
- Discrimination charges – The TWC can charge the respondent with housing discrimination. Then, they have 20 days to send a written copy of the charges to that person.14
The TWC holds a hearing.
The TWC hearing decides if the respondent violated the Texas Fair Housing Act—and if so, how to punish them. Afterward, the TWC may order the respondent to pay penalties (more on those in a minute).
Suing in Civil Court
You can ask the TWC to help you sue the respondent in a real court of law. If you do, the TWC will cancel its hearing and hand your case over to the Attorney General. The AG then has 30 days to file a lawsuit in the county where the discrimination happened.15
You can also sue the other person on your own within two years of alleged discrimination. And you can do that even if you’ve already filed a complaint with the TWC. (The TWC works around what you do, not the other way around.)
The civil court can award you damages and legal fees and make the other person pay penalties. But there are a few caveats:
- You can’t sue the other person if you’ve got a conciliation agreement. (Unless they break it—then sue away.)
- The Attorney General or TWC can get involved in your lawsuit if they think it’s important—even if you never filed a complaint with them.
- Let’s say you complain to the TWC, but you decide to sue the respondent before the investigation ends. The TWC can’t charge them with discrimination during the lawsuit. But if you sue after the TWC charges the person, you can use those charges to help you win in court. (As long as you bring the charges into court within 20 days.)
- Whoever loses in court has to pay the winner’s attorney fees and the court’s costs. So if you lose, you’re on the hook for both of those.16
Should You Sue or File a Complaint With the TWC?
Resolving a complaint with the TWC can take a long time—like more than six months! And that doesn’t even include the TWC hearing or a court case.
But the TWC exists for a reason. They help Texans fight housing discrimination—so they need to know when it happens. When you file a complaint with the TWC, they can help stop the same thing from happening to more people.
Texas Fair Housing Act Penalties
If someone violates the Texas Fair Housing Act, they’ll face serious penalties.
The TWC can order the respondent to pay you for damages, attorney fees, court costs and other fees. They’ll also face civil penalties, which are:
- $10,000 for one violation
- $25,000 for two offenses in the last five years
- $50,000 if they’ve committed two or more offenses in the last seven years17
If the person is a repeat offender, the time limits come off, and they may have to pay for violations that happened decades ago. They’ll pay the penalty money to the Texas comptroller—who’s like the chief financial officer for the state.
Civil Court Penalties
Courts can issue an injunction or restraining order and award you financial relief, attorney fees and court costs. They can also fine the offender $50,000 for a first violation or $100,000 for the second.18
Some housing discrimination can actually lead to criminal charges, not just civil ones. For example, using force or threats to keep you from renting or buying a home is a Class A misdemeanor in Texas. That’s punishable with a fine of up to $4,000 and up to a year in jail.19
Avoiding Housing Discrimination
When you’re looking for a place to live, the last thing you should have to deal with is housing discrimination. So, how do you make sure this doesn’t happen to you? You build a team of people you trust to help you find the right home—starting with a great real estate agent.
We recommend RamseyTrusted real estate agents. We’ve vetted them, and we know they have good business sense and good character to go with it. They’ll treat you right—period. And since they’re Endorsed Local Providers (ELPs), they know your new neighborhood like the back of their hand.