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By Heather Bernhard
Updated on Jun 27, 2022
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff, Staff Editor.
Under the Massachusetts Fair Housing Act, it’s illegal for landlords, real estate agents, mortgage brokers, or banks to deny anyone housing or financing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, familial status, marital status, disability, source of income, age, veteran or active military status, or genetic information.
The federal Fair Housing Act was created to protect people from discrimination when seeking housing. Most states also have their own set of fair housing laws, and in some cases (including Massachusetts), state laws are stricter than federal laws.
Unfortunately, these rights are not widely known, so many people will face discrimination without being able to defend themselves or file a complaint. That’s why Jerry, the nation’s top renters insurance super app, put together this guide with everything you need to know about fair housing in Massachusetts.
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Does Massachusetts have a Fair Housing Act?
Yes! Massachusetts has its own Fair Housing Laws, which prohibit discrimination in real estate transactions based on protected classes.
Massachusetts’ Fair Housing Laws have eight additional protections for tenants beyond the primary seven factors (race, color, national origin, sex, disability, and religion), including:
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity
- Marital status
- Source of income
- Veteran or active military status
- Genetic information
According to Massachusetts Fair Housing Laws, it is illegal to:
- Refuse to rent, sell, or exchange real estate with a person based on a protected characteristic
- Falsely claim that a unit is unavailable to view when it is available
- Promote real estate in a way that suggests a preference for certain people or families
- Offer different obligations or terms to specific groups of people
- Refuse to reasonably accommodate or modify a housing unit to meet the needs of a person with a disability
That being said, there are reasons a landlord or housing manager can legitimately deny your application for housing. For example, if you cannot pay the required rent or have a history of violence or eviction for drug offenses, you may be denied—as long as the same standards are applied to everyone.
Accessibility requirements under the Fair Housing Act
Fair housing laws prohibit discrimination based on disability and require landlords and housing managers to allow persons with disabilities equal use and enjoyment of their facilities. If anti-discrimination laws are violated, they may face legal consequences.
A reasonable accommodation is a change or adjustment to a rule, policy, or service that will allow a person with a disability to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the interior or exterior of a housing unit or common spaces. Typical accommodation requests include:
- Allowing a closer parking space for a tenant with mobility issues
- Making an exception to a “no pets” policy to allow someone to keep an emotional support animal
- Relocating a trash storage area to the ground floor so it’s accessible without using stairs
A reasonable modification request is a structural change made to an existing dwelling or common area that allows a person with a disability to fully use a facility. Common modification requests include:
- Installing a blinking doorbell for a tenant who is deaf
- Adding grab bars in the shower and by the toilet for a tenant who is a fall risk
- Installing a ramp or widening doorways for a tenant in a wheelchair
The Massachusetts Office on Disability recommends the following when making your request:
- Before you make a request, ensure there is a policy, procedure, etc. you need to make an exception to (for example, you don’t need to request an exception for a service dog if there is no policy banning animals)
- Explain your need and the necessary accommodation/modification as clearly as possible
- Describe the link between your disability and the accommodation/modification you are requesting
- Explain why the current situation doesn’t work
- Consider the cost of the changes you are requesting: housing providers are only obligated to provide reasonable modifications
- Find out if your housing provider has a specific process for requesting modifications/accommodations
- If your disability-related need isn’t obvious, collect supporting documentation
- Make your official request in writing and keep a record of communications
How to file a fair housing complaint in Massachusetts
If you believe you’ve been the victim of housing discrimination in Massachusetts, MassAccess recommends first writing down everything that happened, including:
- Date and time
- Address and phone number of the person you spoke with
- Details of the conversation
Next, arrange to have a test done (a test is how officials investigate a landlord or real estate agent to determine if they are illegally discriminating against potential tenants).
If the incident occurred in Central or Western Massachusetts, contact the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center.
Either agency will send two testers to the same landlord or real estate agent. The testers will give the same information you did about income, household size, type and price of housing they are looking for, and so on—but one tester will claim to have a disability, and one will not.
The test will determine if there is probable cause to believe you have been discriminated against, and you can use that proof to file a complaint.
Finally, to file a complaint, you can reach out directly to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) or the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
You can visit www.masslegalhelp.org for assistance in finding an attorney.
State agency vs. local offices
In most cases, reporting to the Division of Human Relations or HUD is the best way to deal with housing discrimination in Massachusetts.
How to save money on home and renters insurance in Massachusetts
When you find the right housing, it’s a good idea to keep yourself protected with the right renters insurance. Shopping for insurance can be a hassle—especially if you’re already filling out piles of forms—so, Jerry can help you find the right coverage at the best rates no matter who you are.
If you want to save money on your insurance policies, the Jerry app is a good place to start. A licensed broker, Jerry does all the hard work of finding cheap quotes from the top name-brand insurance companies and insurance. You can even bundle it with your car insurance for even more savings!
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How do I report a landlord in Massachusetts?
Massachusetts has a fairly complicated complaints process that starts with contacting the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston or the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center to arrange for a test. Once the test is completed (and if the results are in your favor), you may officially file a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) or the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).