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Religious Accommodation in the Fair Housing Act
For decades in the United States, the Fair Housing Act has prohibited housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status and national origin. The Maine Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the same bases, plus sexual orientation, national ancestry, and receipt of public assistance.
This podcast talks about housing discrimination on the basis of religion.
Acts of terror and violence in our own country and worldwide, are negatively impacting our sense of trust and our view of the world. Realistically, misunderstandings about people who practice other religions may result in increased housing discrimination. For example, housing providers may wrongly assume that housing seekers practice a certain religion because of the clothes they wear. They may believe that practitioners of certain religions should not be allowed into the United States. They may think that the safety of other tenants will be at risk. They may ignore it when tenants harass each other.
Discrimination based on religion may come from the housing provider, the housing provider’s employees or other tenants. Here are some examples:
- A housing provider tells you he needs to know your religion before he will rent to you
- A housing provider refuses to rent to you because you are a women who wears a hijab
- A housing provider tells you that you won’t like the neighborhood because there isn’t a mosque or synagogue nearby
- A housing provider, its employee or other tenant says rude things about your religious practices or dress
- A housing provider, its employee or other tenant says Muslims are terrorists and not welcome
- A housing provider ignores your complaints that its employee or another tenant is harassing you based on your religion, such as by using offensive names or painting swastikas or other symbols of religious hatred.
- A housing provider allows some tenants to display Christian images, but won’t allow you to display religiously significant items
- A housing provider allows Christian tenants to use community rooms for religious purposes but does not give Muslim tenants the same opportunity.
Maine recognizes and allows accommodation for religion. For example, a landlord may have a valid rule prohibiting the burning of candles or incense. If your religious practice includes rites that require burning candles, smudges, incense, or other substances, you can ask for an accommodation that the landlord must consider. Your landlord may have important safety reasons for the no-burning rule, so it is important to have a plan to avoid a fire. For example, you can offer to extinguish the candle or incense immediately after the ritual is completed and to have a bucket of water or sand ready as a precaution.
If you believe that you are experiencing religious discrimination in housing, contact Pine Tree Legal Assistance for a confidential consultation. We can explain your legal rights and help you understand how to address the problem.
Even if you don’t want to take individual action, we encourage you to share your experience with us, so that we can investigate and potentially improve the lives of other in similar situations.
If you do want to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the Maine Human Rights Commission, we may be able to represent you.
- Have the following information on hand when you contact us:
- A description what happened to make you think religious discrimination has occurred.
- Date(s) and time(s) when the discrimination took place.
- The address of the housing.
- Name(s) of the person(s) who discriminated against you.
- Copies of emails or notes from the landlord, landlord’s employee or other tenant.
- A record of your contacts with the landlord, including times when you left messages and the landlord did not respond.
- Any actions you have already taken.
You can find contact information for a Pine Tree Legal Assistance office near you, as well as information about fair housing laws at www.ptla.org.
Published on March 31, 2016