New Guidance on Fair Housing Protections for People with Limited English Proficiency

Last week, HUD issued new guidance explaining how it will analyze fair housing claims alleging discrimination against people who don’t speak, read, or write English proficiently.

HUD acknowledges that people with limited English proficiency (LEP) are not a protected class under the Fair Housing Act, but the law prohibits discrimination on national origin, which is closely linked to the ability to communicate proficiently in English. HUD says that means that housing providers may not use limited English proficiency selectively or as an excuse for intentional housing discrimination. The law also prohibits landlords from using limited English proficiency in a way that causes an unjustified discriminatory effect on people based on their national origin.

More than 25 million people in the United States—nearly 9 percent of the U.S. population—do not communicate proficiently in English, according to HUD. About 65 percent of these individuals speak Spanish; roughly 7 percent speak Chinese, 3 percent speak Vietnamese, 2 percent speak Korean, and 2 percent speak Tagalog. Housing decisions that are based on limited English proficiency may have a greater impact on these and other groups because of their nationality, HUD says.

The guidance explains how housing providers may face a fair housing claim for intentional discrimination for housing-related practices related to a person’s limited ability to speak, read, write, or understand English. Examples include:

  • Applying a language-related requirement to people of certain races or nationalities;
  • Posting advertisements that contain blanket statements, such as “all tenants must speak English”; or
  • Immediately turning away applicants who are not fluent in English.

The guidelines also explain that housing providers may face fair housing claims for policies or practices that have an unjustified discriminatory effect, even when the provider had not intended to discriminate. Determining whether a practice has a discriminatory effect involves a three-step process to evaluate:

  1. Statistical evidence of a discriminatory effect;
  2. Whether the housing provider’s policy or practice is necessary to achieve a substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interest; and, if so,
  3. Whether there is a less discriminatory alternative policy or practice.

“Having a limited ability to speak English should never be a reason to be denied a home,” Gustavo Velasquez, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, said in a statement. “Every family that calls this nation home has the same rights when it comes to renting or buying a home, regardless of where they come from or language they speak.”

HUD’s “Guidance on Fair Housing Act Protections for Persons with Limited English Proficiency,” is available here.