Housing Discrimination

Housing Discrimination and People with Disabilities

Both federal and state fair housing laws protect people with physical and mental disabilities and provide rights to help them rent apartments and maintain their tenancies. If you feel that you have been discriminated against by a real estate agent, landlord, or housing manager it is important to do something about it.

The following are examples of actions or statements that could be discriminatory:

  • Refusing to rent to you. For example, landlords or housing managers cannot refuse to rent to a person with a disability because their income is too low if they accept non-disabled applicants with the same income.
  • Offering you different terms and conditions for your lease. For example, landlords or housing managers cannot require that you, and not other tenants, pay an extra security deposit.
  • Refusing to reasonably accommodate the needs of a person with disability in order to allow that person to occupy and fully enjoy the unit. For example, a landlord cannot evict a person who is blind for having a service animal.

There are legitimate reasons that a landlord or housing manager can deny your application for the unit, such as an inability to pay the rent that is asked or a history of non-payment of rent or violence, as long as the landlord applies the same standards to all tenants.

If you think you have been discriminated against:

  1. Write it down. As soon as you feel you have been discriminated against, write down everything that happened including the date, the time of day, the address and phone number of the person you talked to, everything you said and everything the person said. If you answered a newspaper ad, keep the ad.
  2. Try to arrange to have a test done. Testing is a method used to investigate a landlord or real estate agent to determine if they are illegally discriminating against you. You should contact an agency that does testing:

    In Greater Boston, contact The Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston at 617-427-9740

    In Central or Western Massachusetts, contact the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center at 800-675-7309

    These agencies will send two testers to the same landlord or real estate agent. If you think you have been discriminated against because of your disability, both testers will give the same information you did about income, household size, type and price of housing you are looking for, etc but one tester will have a disability and the other will not. The test will determine if there is enough proof that discrimination occurred and you can use that proof to file a complaint.

  3. File a complaint. If you think you have been discriminated against, you have the right to file a complaint directly with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) (link), HUD (link), your local fair housing or human rights commission or a court. You should also consider getting an attorney to assist you with this.

To find a local legal services office, visit: www.masslegalhelp.org. You can also contact The Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston at 617-399-0491 or the Massachsetts Fair Housing Center at 800-675-7309 (for Western or Central MA).

For more information about discrimination and tenants’ rights in general, visit: www.masslegalhelp.org.


  • Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston, www.bostonfairhousing.org
  • “Accessing Affordable Housing for Low-Income People: How to Represent Your Low-Income Clients Effectively”, MCLE, 2001.

The Mass Access Fact Sheets were funded in part by the Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council