- What does "Fair Housing" mean?
- How do the disability protections work?
- What housing is covered?
- What if I get worse treatment because I reported a landlord, or helped someone to report?
- Can a landlord refuse to rent to me because I have children?
- Can a landlord treat me differently because I get help from the town, the state, or the U.S government?
- What if someone is threatening or harassing me?
- What if I am trying to buy a house, and a seller or money lender discriminates against me?
- Where can I get help?
- What will happen if I file a complaint?
- What if someone discriminates against me other than denying me housing?
ASL Fair Housing video (no sound)
In Maine we have both state and federal “fair housing” laws. They say that a landlord cannot refuse to rent to you, and a seller cannot treat you differently, because of your:
- national origin or ancestry (where you or your family came from)
- sexual orientation (gender identity and gender expression)
- living with minor children (called “familial status” in the law) or
- getting public assistance (such as TANF, general assistance, SSI or Section 8)
Also, it is illegal for a landlord to treat you differently than other tenants for these reasons.
Note: The state law barring discrimination based on sexual orientation also protects trans-gendered people. And it prohibits discrimination based on another person’s belief that you are gay or trans-gendered, even if you are not.
How do the disability protections work?
People with disabilities must be treated the same as anyone else. And they don’t have to disclose that they have disabilities.
If you have a disability and you need a change to the rules or a physical change to your unit, you can tell the landlord that you have a disability and request a reasonable accommodation or modification. The change must be related to your disability and necessary for you to enjoy your home the same as a person without disabilities.
To learn more see “Fair Housing for People with Disabilities.”
Get information about the right to service animals.
What housing is covered?
Fair Housing rules apply to most housing, whether you rent or buy a home. Covered rental housing includes:
apartments and houses owned by private landlords, and
"subsidized housing," like public housing run by a housing authority.
There are a few small exceptions. For example: some parts of the federal law do not apply if the landlord lives in the building and has no more than 4 rental units. The state law does not cover a 2-unit building where the landlord lives in one of the units. It also does not cover a landlord renting out 4 rooms or fewer in his own home.
What if I get worse treatment because I reported a landlord, or helped someone to report?
The laws also say that it is illegal for anyone to threaten you, or treat you wrongly, because you tried to enforce fair housing laws. If this happens, you can get help. Witnesses, caseworkers and others who help you with your case are also protected from retaliation.
Can a landlord refuse to rent to me because I have children?
No. The laws say that landlords cannot refuse to rent to people with children, or because you are pregnant or trying to get custody of a child. There are exceptions for certain housing that is set aside as elderly housing. Also, housing codes can limit the number of people who can safely live in a housing unit, depending on its size. It can be legal to refuse to rent the unit if you have too many people. Check with your local building code office or call Pine Tree Legal Assistance.
Can a landlord treat me differently because I get help from the town, the state, or the U.S government?
Maine law says that you must be treated the same as other tenants. This means that the landlord cannot charge you a different rent or fees, or make different rules for you.
What if someone is threatening or harassing me?
It is also illegal for anyone to harass you because of your race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, sex, or sexual orientation. This includes your landlord, a maintenance employee or a neighbor. Pine Tree Legal helps people with these cases also, where they involve housing discrimination.
Severe or continued harassment may be a hate crime. For help, contact your local police department or the Maine Attorney General’s Civil Rights Division:
6 State House Station
Augusta, Maine 04333
Telephone: (207) 626-8800
TTY # (207) 626-8865
What if I am trying to buy a house, and a seller or money lender discriminates against me?
These rules also apply if you are trying to buy a home.
- A seller cannot refuse to sell to you, or make it harder for you to buy.
- A real estate agent cannot refuse to serve you.
- No lender of a housing-related loan can refuse you a loan or make it harder for you to get a loan.
The discrimination must be based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry, disability, having children in your home (“familial status”), or receipt of public assistance.
Where can I get help?
If you have questions, or need legal help, contact your nearest Pine Tree Legal Assistance office. To report discrimination, you can also contact either of these two government offices.
Maine Human Rights Commission
51 State House Station
Augusta, Maine 04333-0051
Find "intake" form online at:
HUD Office of Fair Housing
U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development
Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr. Federal Bldg.
10 Causeway Street, Room 321
Boston, MA 02222-1092
Phone: 1-800-827-5005 or (617) 994-8300
TTY (617) 565-5453
FAX: (617) 565-7313
File complaint on-line at: http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/topics/housing_discrimination
What will happen if I file a complaint?
Here is a brief description of how the state and federal agencies handle fair housing complaints. To keep it simple, we will assume here that you are filing a complaint against your landlord.
You must file a complaint with the MHRC within 300 days of the most recent illegal act. After you file your charge, the MHRC will send a copy to the landlord, to get his response. Then you have a chance to respond to his statement.
An MHRC investigator will look into the case. The investigator may hold an informal fact-finding meeting. Or the investigator may hold separate meetings with you and the landlord or talk to you by phone.
You will have a chance to settle your problem during the investigation. If you reach an agreement, both sides have to follow it. If you do not agree, then the investigator will write a report. In the report, the investigator says whether or not she thinks the landlord broke the fair housing law.
The investigator sends the report to you and the landlord. If you disagree with it, you may write a letter to the Commissioners. The Commissioners will read the report, along with any letters from you and the landlord. At a public meeting, where you will be given the chance to explain your case, the Commission votes on whether to support the report.
The Commission usually votes on a housing case within three months of when they receive it.
If the Commission finds “reasonable grounds” that you were treated illegally, they will work with you and the other side, to try to resolve your case. This is called “conciliation” and is a required step. If your case is not resolved, the Commission will take the case to Court. You may also have your own lawyer, at your own expense.
If the Commission finds “no reasonable grounds” to believe you were treated illegally, and you disagree, you can take your case to court at your own expense. You can ask the Commission for a list of attorneys to represent you.
If you decide to file your complaint with the United States Fair Housing office, you must do this within one year of the landlord’s most recent illegal act.
Generally, HUD will refer a case filed within 300 days to the Maine Human Rights Commission, (see above). If the last discriminatory act took place between 300 days and 12 months, then HUD will keep your case. HUD will notify your landlord of your complaint and ask for his written response. Then HUD will investigate the case to determine if “there is reasonable cause to believe” that your landlord broke the law. HUD will try to reach an agreement with your landlord that protects your rights.
If your case is not settled and HUD finds “reasonable cause,” your case will go to a formal administrative hearing. A government lawyer will present your case for free. You may also have your own lawyer. If the Administrative Law Judge finds in your favor, your landlord can be ordered:
- To pay you damages.
- To do specific things to set things right.
- To pay a fine to the US government.
- To pay lawyer's fees and costs.
If either party would rather go to Federal Court, the court will hear your case instead. A government lawyer would bring the case on your behalf. The Court can order the same remedies, plus punitive damages—which punish the landlord for his wrong acts.
You also have the right to go to federal court at your own expense without going through these steps. You can ask the court to appoint a free lawyer.
What if someone discriminates against me other than denying me housing?
Maine and federal laws also prohibit discrimination in these areas:
- credit (borrowing money)
- public accommodations (like hotels, stores, social services and public meeting places)
- educational opportunity
If you are discriminated against in any of these areas, you may ask for help from the Maine Human Rights Commission.
Updated March 2014