What You Need to Know About Pennsylvania’s Fair Housing Act

Under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, you can't be denied housing based on race, age, color, sex, national origin, disability, religion, or familial status.
Written by Patrick Price
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Under The
Human Relations Act (PHRA) it is illegal for landlords, real estate agencies, or banks to discriminate against potential renters/buyers based on their race, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other protected classification. 
Fair housing rights are protected on the federal level by the
1968 Fair Housing Act
, which is still being regularly updated today. While this act protects renters and homebuyers in every state, each state has its own process for reporting violations. Some states, Pennsylvania included, have more extensive laws than exist at the federal level. That's why it's so important to be aware of the fair housing rules in your specific area. 
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Does Pennsylvania have a Fair Housing Act?

Yes! Originally passed in 1955, The
Pennsylvania Human Relations Act
(PHRA) enumerates the fair housing laws in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. 
The act makes it illegal for any individual or organization to discriminate against a person seeking housing based on any of the following protected classifications
  • Race/color
  • Gender 
  • Familial status
  • Religious creed
  • Ancestry
  • Age
  • National origin 
  • Handicap/disability
  • Using and/or training support guide animals 
Under the PHRA, illegal discrimination can be defined as doing any one of the following things based only on a protected classification: 
  • Refusing to rent or sell a property 
  • Falsely claiming that a housing unit unavailable 
  • Printing, publishing, or circulating any statement or advertisement that indicates any preference, limitation, specification, or discrimination regarding protected classifications
  • Imposing different conditions on a lease, rental agreement, housing contract, or loan 
  • Refusing a loan or mortgage application 
  • Refusing to make reasonable changes to accommodate a disability or constructing new housing units which do not have reasonable accessibility
These laws apply to any individual or organization that is renting or selling property/housing in Pennsylvania. If you feel that you or someone you know has been the victim of discriminatory housing practices you should report it as soon as possible. 

Accessibility requirements under the Fair Housing Act

Federal and Pennsylvania state laws also establish
Fair Housing Accessibility Guidelines
which regulate the design and construction of covered multifamily housing units that were built after March of 1991
The fair housing accessibility requirements in Pennsylvania dictate that all units must have the following:
  • An accessible entrance 
  • Accessible public and common-use areas
  • Doors that are usable by a person in a wheelchair 
  • An accessible route into and through the dwelling unit
  • Environmental controls (light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats, etc) that are in an accessible locations
  • Reinforced walls in bathrooms (to support grab bars)
  • Kitchens and bathrooms that are usable by a person in a wheelchair
These requirements apply to all housing buildings with units for sale or rent that contain four or more dwelling units. This includes condominiums, apartments, time-shares, dormitories/student housing, transitional housing, assisted living, and homeless shelters. In buildings with elevators, all housing units must comply with these requirements. In buildings without elevators, however, only first-floor units must comply
Another component of the 1991 Fair Housing Act addresses the need for reasonable accommodations and reasonable modifications.
An individual with a disability can request a reasonable accommodation regarding the housing provider's rules or services to use or enjoy the dwelling fully. Common accommodation requests are:
  • Requesting a seeing-eye dog at a location that usually does not allow pets
  • Requesting a reserved parking spot located closer to the building for a tenant that has mobility concerns
  • Allowing a tenant to pay rent via mail if they are disabled in a way that will not allow them to make the payment at the rental office
A reasonable modification request is more physical and will vary depending on the disability and dwelling. Common reasonable modification requests are:
  • Kitchens and bathrooms laid out for wheelchair users
  • Light switches, thermostats, and outlets in accessible locations
  • Reinforced bathroom walls able to support a grab bar 
If your housing situation does not comply with these requirements, you should file a complaint with the proper authorities. 

How to file a fair housing complaint in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission
(PHRC) and the
Department of Community and Economic Development
(DCED) are responsible for enforcing fair housing regulations in Pennsylvania. 
If you believe that you have been denied housing in violation of state and federal law (as described above), you can
file a complaint with the PHRC
or with the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity—which is a division of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s and handles fair housing complaints at the federal level. 
You can begin the complaint process by filling out the required
and submitting it in one of three ways:
  • Submitting the written complaint by mail 
  • Over the phone by calling the PHRC at (717) 787-4410 or (717) 787-7279 
  • In-person by visiting one of the PHRC’s three
    regional offices
Complaints need to be submitted within 180 days of the discrimination act—unless you can show a reasonable cause for a delay. 
If the
determines that your accusation is valid, the offending party may be required to cease all discriminatory behavior, make necessary changes to get up to code, or even pay you damages! 

State agency vs. local offices

Most of the time, you'll want to report housing discrimination to the PHRC. However, some jurisdictions have their own local organizations for handling fair housing issues. If your area has such an agency, you should first try taking the matter to them. 
Here are the various local agencies that deal with fair housing in Pennsylvania:
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Federal and state law protects you from housing discrimination in
with the hopes that you won't have any unfair challenges when searching for your dream home. Once you’ve secured housing, though, you’ll still need to keep it protected with either
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To report a landlord for a fair housing violation in Pennsylvania, you’ll want to report them to the
—which you can do online or call (717) 787-4410. Alternatively, you can report them to the
Department of Housing and Urban Development
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