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Housing Discrimination in Texas – Renters and Homebuyers

Housing Discrimination

This article provides information about fair housing requirements for renters and homebuyers in Texas.

Here, you will learn how you are protected from discrimination in the sale, rental or financing of housing on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, physical or mental disability, or familial status. You will also learn how to file a discrimination complaint. 

The information in this article has been adapted from material written by the Texas Workforce Commission and Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. It has been lightly edited for style.  

Revised by TexasLawHelp.org on December 13, 2022. 

What laws protect me from discrimination in renting, home buying, and mortgage lending?

The Texas Fair Housing Act and the U.S. Fair Housing Act prohibit discriminatory housing practices in the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, physical or mental disability, or familial status (presence of a child under age 18 living with parents or legal custodians, person securing custody of children under 18, or a pregnant woman). 

The Texas Fair Housing Act covers most housing. In some circumstances, the law exempts owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, single-family housing sold or rented without the use of a broker, and housing operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members. Also, housing developments that qualify as housing for persons age 55 or older may be exempt from the provisions barring discrimination on the basis of familial status. 

What actions are prohibited?

It is illegal for anyone to: 

  • Advertise or make any statement that indicates a limitation or preference based on race, religion, color, sex, national origin, disability or familial status. This prohibition against discriminatory advertising applies to all housing, including single-family and owner-occupied housing that is otherwise exempt from the Texas Fair Housing Act 

  • Harass, coerce, intimidate, threaten or interfere with anyone exercising a fair housing right or assisting others who exercise their fair housing rights 

  • Take any of the following actions in the sale and rental of housing based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or familial status: 

    • Refuse to rent or sell housing 

    • Refuse to negotiate for housing 

    • Advertise housing to preferred groups of people only 

    • Show apartments or homes in certain neighborhoods only 

    • Say that housing is unavailable for inspection, sale or rental when in fact it is available 

    • Set different terms, conditions or privileges for sale or rental of a dwelling 

    • Provide different housing services or facilities 

    • Deny access to or membership in a facility or service (such as a multiple listing service) related to the sale or rental of housing 

    • Refuse to make certain modifications or accommodations for persons with a mental or physical disability 

    • Take any of the following actions in mortgage lending based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or familial status:  

    • Refuse to make a mortgage loan 

    • Refuse to provide information regarding loans 

    • Impose different terms or conditions on a loan, such as different interest rates, points, or fees 

    • Deny property insurance 

    • Conduct property appraisals in a discriminatory manner 

    • Refuse to purchase a loan 

    • Set different terms of conditions for purchasing a loan

What are examples of discrimination in home buying?

Discriminatory practices encountered during the home buying process could include: 

  • Using different criteria to approve a loan than the criteria used to approve another person's loan file that is within the same economic range (e.g., imposing different terms, lending conditions, interest rates or fees) 

  • Refusing to sell or negotiate a property because of a person's protected class status 

  • Advertising housing in a discriminatory manner or implying directly or indirectly in marketing materials that the opportunity to buy such housing is restricted to certain groups 

  • "Steering" - directing households to view houses in certain neighborhoods or not providing information on housing available in particular neighborhoods 

  • "Blockbusting" - persuading owners to sell or rent based on the changing demographics of an area 

  • "Redlining" - refusing or providing higher mortgages or homebuyer insurance costs based on the area in which your prospective home is located 

  • Predatory Lending - practices by which lenders use abusive or deceptive lending practices that greatly inflate the cost of borrowing funds for homeownership 

  • Homeowner Association policies that set occupancy limits or require minimum or maximum square footage requirements that may create a disparate impact on protected classes 

In general, it is illegal under fair housing laws for real estate agents, mortgage brokers, sellers, lenders, homeowner associations, insurance agents, or other industry professionals to take actions or make decisions based on a person's race, color, ethnicity, gender, religion, national origin, or disability. 

Persons with disabilities have additional protections under fair housing law that entitle them to reasonable modification and accommodations that are necessary to allow them to purchase or use and enjoy a new home.  Accommodations may be requested of lenders, real estate agents, condo or home owner associations, owners and others throughout the home buying process. 

For additional resources, visit the Buying a Home page on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) website.  For a list of Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) homebuyer programs, visit Help for Texans

What are examples of rental discrimination?

Examples of things that might indicate unlawful rental discrimination is occurring could include (but are not limited to): 

  • Lying about or misrepresenting the availability of housing when housing is available 

  • Requiring different terms or conditions based solely on a household member's race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability 

  • Advertising that indicates a limitation or preference based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability 

  • Harassment or intimidation such as verbal threats, vandalism, or unwanted sexual advances 

  • A refusal to make reasonable accommodations for a person with disabilities 

  • Being steered to properties, buildings, or units on one side of a complex based solely on factors related to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability, regardless of other available options

  • A Homeowners Association banning tenants based on the their method of payment. Homeowners Associations cannot stop landlords from renting to tenants who pay with housing vouchers or other public or private assistance.

What familial status protections are available?

Unless a building or community qualifies as housing for older persons, the owner or manager may not discriminate based on familial status. 

These protections cover all families in which one or more children under 18 live with: 

  • A parent, 

  • A person who has legal custody of the child or children, 

  • The designee of the parent or legal custodian with the parent or custodian's written permission, 

  • Pregnant women, or 

  • Anyone securing legal custody of a child under 18. 

If a landlord is refusing to rent to you for these reasons, has included different terms or conditions in your lease or required different terms or conditions at the time of application (e.g., higher deposit or rent based solely on your household status), has separate house rules for children or families with children, or has advertised the housing unit as for "adults only", your rights may have been violated under the Fair Housing Act.

When do familial status protections not apply to housing for elders?

Familial status protections not apply to housing for elders if any of the following are true: 

  • It is specifically designed for and occupied by elderly persons under a Federal, state, or local government program 

  • It is occupied solely by persons who are age 62 or older 

  • It houses at least one person who is age 55 or older in at least 80 percent of the occupied units, and adheres to a policy that demonstrates intent to house persons who are age 55 or older 

What is steering?

It is a violation of fair housing law to discourage any person from inspecting or renting a dwelling because of certain protected characteristics, or to assign any person to a particular section of a community or to a particular floor of a building because of those characteristics.  

Examples of steering could include: 

  • Families with children are not allowed to live on the top floor of the development. 

  • Being told that you should live in one building rather than another because you will be closer to other tenants of the same race or national origin. 

  • Students and families with children are assigned to units on one side of a complex while single and older persons are assigned to units on another side. 

  • Being discouraged from renting an available upstairs unit based on your status as a person with a disability. 

What are reasonable accommodations?

It is a violation of fair housing law to discriminate against applicants or residents because of their disability or the disability of anyone associated with them and to treat persons with disabilities unfavorably as a result of their disability.  

Housing providers may not refuse residency to persons with a disability or place conditions on their residency because a person with disabilities may require a reasonable accommodation. 

A reasonable accommodation is a change in rules, policies, or practices that may be necessary to afford a person with a disability an equal opportunity to use or enjoy a dwelling, such as assistance in filling out a rental application or allowing a unit transfer.

How can I make a request for a reasonable accommodation?

Requests can be made orally or in writing and are not required to be entered on specific forms, though management may provide a form for this purpose.

What are examples of reasonable accommodation requests?

Reasonable accommodation requests may include (but are not limited to): 

  • Installing grab bars in the bathroom 

  • Widening doorways 

  • Removing under-the-counter cabinets 

  • Installing ramps 

  • Requesting to keep a service or companion animal despite a "no pets" policy 

  • Requesting a unit transfer from an upper floor to a ground floor unit because of a mobility disability 

  • Requesting interpreters or auxiliary aids to effectively communicate with management because an applicant or tenant is hearing impaired 

  • Requesting that carpeting be removed from a unit or that maintenance staff not use certain chemicals inside or near a unit due to severe respiratory disabilities 

  • Requesting a reserved parking space close to a unit because of a mobility disability

Where can I learn more about reasonable accommodations?

What are my rights if I have a service animal?

Service animals are not treated as pets under the law and are not required to be certified. Because they are not pets, residents with a disability who have a service animal are not required to pay a pet deposit or other associated pet fees and service animals are not subject to type, breed, weight, and size restrictions established by the property's tenant selection and eligibility criteria. A request for a service animal may be denied, however, if there is reliable, objective evidence that an assistance animal poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others. 

To learn more about service animals, see HUD Notice 13-060A on the HUD website and the ADA Service Animal Fact Sheet on the Americans with Disabilities website.

Am I protected if I have a disability?

If you have a physical or mental disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities, have a record of such a disability, or are regarded as having such a disability, you are legally protected against housing discrimination based on that disability. Protection against housing discrimination due to a disability also applies for a person associated with you. 

A landlord may not: 

  • Make an inquiry to determine if an applicant for a dwelling, or a person intending to reside in the dwelling, or any person associated with that person has a disability. 

  • Refuse to let you make reasonable modifications to your dwelling or common use areas, at your expense, if necessary for the disabled person to use the housing.  

  • Refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services if necessary, so that the disabled person may have equal opportunity to use and enjoy the housing, including public and common-use areas. For example: 

  • In a building with a "no pets" policy, a visually-impaired tenant must be allowed to keep a guide dog. 

  • At an apartment complex that offers tenants ample, unassigned parking, management must honor a request from a mobility-impaired tenant for a reserved space near their apartment if necessary to assure that they can have access to the unit. 

For information related to requesting reasonable accommodations or entering a complaint under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), access the Equal Rights Center's Disability and Veterans Toolkit or visit Disability Rights Texas

If you are disabled, you may request assistance in reading and completing Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division forms. Deaf, hard-of-hearing or speech-impaired customers may contact Relay Texas: 800-735-2989 (TTY) and 711 (Voice).

What are owners of TDCHA monitored rental properties required to do?

In addition to landlord responsibilities under the Texas Property Code, owners of TDHCA monitored rental properties must: 

  • Keep properties suitable for occupancy and in good repair consistent with Uniform Physical Condition Standards (UPCS) published by HUD. 

  • Estimate utility costs at the property, annually review them, and make them available for inspection. 

  • Provide residents with a certain number of property amenities and/or services. 

  • Operate the property in accordance with its Land Use Restriction Agreement (LURA), whether or not owners or managers change. 

  • Offer written leases with specific terms (usually 6 months for the HTC program and 1 year for HOME and other federal programs). 

  • Provide tenants with written notice in the event of lease termination or non-renewal. 

  • Provide reasonable accommodations at the Owner's expense (except in some HTC properties awarded before 2001). 

Owners of TDHCA monitored rental properties are prohibited from: 

  • Locking out or seizing property of tenants who have not paid rent. 

  • Charging rents in excess of program-specific rent limits that are published each year. 

  • Using certain lease provisions that restrict tenant rights to court and appeals processes or decisions, excuse owners from responsibility, or require tenants to pay court fees if a proceeding is won against the owner. 

  • Denying households for rental housing on the sole basis of the household's participation in the Section 8, HOME TBRA, or other federal rental assistance program. 

  • Evicting tenants for other than good cause under the lease, including retaliation for renters making discrimination complaints or assisting others in exercising his or her fair housing rights or rights to request reasonable accommodations. 

  • Requiring households participating in the Section 8, HOME TBRA, or other federal rental assistance program to demonstrate a monthly income of more than 2.5 times the household's share of the monthly rent. 

Example:  

A voucher holder's tenant portion of the rent will be $216.30 per month. 

$216.30 x 2.5 = $540.75 per month 

The household cannot be asked to demonstrate more than $540.75 per month to be eligible for housing.

Can occupancy standards violate fair housing laws?

HUD has issued guidelines regarding occupancy standards that may violate fair housing laws because of adverse impact on families with children. 

Currently, TDHCA recommends that occupancy standards should allow at least two persons per bedroom in the absence of local code or ordinance stating otherwise.

Where can I learn more about tenants’ rights in Texas?

The Tenants Rights Handbook is a great source of information.

TexasLawHelp's Eviction and Other Landlord Issues section has information on topics including, but not limited to:

Additional resources may be available to you through your local Legal Aid Office or through one of HUD's approved rental counseling programs.  

You can conduct further research by reading Fair Housing Act. The Texas Property Code also includes an overview of your basic rights as a tenant in a rental property. 

What can I do if I have been discriminated against when trying to buy, finance, or rent housing in Texas?

If you believe you may have been discriminated against while trying to buy, finance or rent a home or apartment in Texas, you may submit a discrimination complaint through the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division.  

You must submit your complaint within one year from the date of the discrimination.

More information

To learn more about housing discrimination protections in Texas, visit the Housing Discrimination page on the Texas Workforce Commission website or the Fair Housing 101 page on the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs website

For other information and toolkits, visit the Toolkits, Sample Forms, and Downloads page.

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