Discrimination by Commercial Landlord Based on Disclosed Religious Use of Property

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Religious discrimination may exist when a person seeking a commercial lease or hoping to buy a commercial site is denied the ability to complete this transaction solely because of his or her religion. There are often different rules for commercial properties than there are for residential properties, but legal protections may exist to prohibit such conduct.

Different Types of Discrimination

Housing discrimination occurs during the process of renting, buying, selling or getting a loan for a home. It also includes the denial of a personís use or enjoyment of their home. Commercial property discrimination may arise during the purchase, lease or sale of commercial property. It can also include the denial of access to commercial property because of a discriminatory reason. At its heart, religious discrimination is the act of treating one person or group of people differently than another because of his or her religion. Religious discrimination may also exist when a landlord discriminates against a person because of his or her perceived religion.

Housing and Commercial Property Laws

The federal Fair Housing Act protects renters from religious discrimination as well as other forms of discrimination. This law applies to most housing. However, there are some exceptions, including owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, single-family housing sold or rented without using a broker or housing leased or sold by religious organizations or private clubs that limit occupancy to members. Even if a property is used for commercial purposes, if it is part of a housing complex, the fair housing law may still apply.

Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits religious discrimination in public accommodations, including restaurants and hotels. States or local governments that own public facilities cannot discriminate on the basis of religion. The law also ensures that individuals of different religions and institutions have equal access to public facilities.
States may have additional anti-discrimination laws that pertain to housing and commercial properties that prohibit religious discrimination. These laws vary by jurisdiction. They may set limits regarding the number of units that must be involved before the law applies. They may also establish other parameters for determining when these restrictions apply.

Forms of Religious Discrimination

Religious discrimination can take on many shapes. It may include refusing to rent or sell property due to the buyerís or renterís religion. It may include refusing to rent to women who wear hijabs, turbans or other religious headgear. Landlords are prohibited from asking about the renterís religion. Religious discrimination may also exist by making rude comments about a personís religion, religious practices, dress or other characteristics associated with religion. Religious discrimination may also exist when members of certain religions are permitted to hang certain religious decorations while members of other religions are prohibited from hanging up decorations.

Housing providers also should not proselytize religion. Landlords cannot evict tenants because of their religion. They also cannot advertise their housing in preference for people of a certain religion. They also are prohibited from making references to the composition of the neighborhood to discourage a purchase of the home or insinuate that the buyer or renter would not like the area because there is not a nearby church, synagogue or mosque that represents his or her religion. Landlords also should not provide more favorable terms to another tenant because of his or her religion than for tenants of other religious sects.
If the landlord is a governmental entity, it also cannot discriminate against potential renters. For example, if a town rents out its community center to local groups, it cannot refuse to rent it out to a religious group.

Potential Penalties

Landlords that discriminate against a person or group on the basis of religion in violation of federal or state anti-discrimination laws may face a number of serious penalties. The victim of discrimination may sue for actual damages in addition to other damages that they suffered. They may face additional civil penalties depending on the law they violated and the circumstances surrounding the case.

Contact an Experienced Housing Discrimination Lawyer

Housing discrimination cases can be quite complex. Often, these cases depend on a thorough investigation that can uncover a pattern of the landlordís discriminatory practices. A housing discrimination lawyer may look into what types of comments the landlord made or acts that it took to determine if discrimination in violation of the law has occurred. He or she can explain the legal options that a victim may have to pursue compensation or other forms of relief.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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