Fair Housing and Rental Assistance

Fair Housing and Rental Assistance

What is Fair Housing?

Fair housing is a set of laws and regulations that require equal access and opportunity to find and keep a home. All housing-related activities, from search and application to amenities, management policies, terms and conditions, and termination of tenancy are covered under the law.

Who is protected under Fair Housing?

A person should not be illegally discriminated against because they are members of a protected class. In Massachusetts those classes are: 1) race, 2) color, 3) religion, 4) national origin, 5) gender, 6) disability, 7) familial status, 8) marital status, 9) sexual orientation, 10) public assistance (including rental vouchers), 11) genetic information, 12) military status, and 13) gender identity/expression.

Who must follow fair housing laws?

Everyone involved in the housing process. Below is a list of parties often involved in helping an individual find and maintain housing and who are required to follow the law. Please note, this is not an all-inclusive list.

  • Property owners, developers, condo associations, and homeowner associations are covered parties. Their employees, such as property managers, clerical staff, and maintenance workers are responsible for performing their duties in a manner consistent with the law.
  • Attorneys and real estate agents must act and advise their clients in a compliant manner.
  • Other residents in the building or development can be held responsible if their behavior is considered to be discriminatory.
  • Developers, architects and contractors are mandated to comply with the accessible design and construction requirements for units built for persons with disabilities and their families.

What types of housing are covered?

Most types of housing are covered. The private real estate market and government-funded housing must follow the laws. Fair housing laws are not restricted to rentals. Condos, co-ops, “rent-to-own” and single-family ownership units are also covered.

What is included under the protection from discrimination based on public assistance?

If you can demonstrate that you can afford the rent, with or without rental assistance, you cannot be denied housing if you are receiving public assistance such as rental vouchers (for example Section 8 or MRVP), food stamps, transitional assistance, Rental Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT), Social Security, or veterans benefits. Property owners should not require that tenants only have earned income to pay their rent share. However, the property owner is allowed to perform a credit check.

Signs of possible discrimination may include property owners:

  • Imposing additional rental application procedures (ex. requesting a higher security deposit or additional references from individuals who receive public assistance).
  • Requiring the voucher be 100% equal to the advertised rent (recipients may be able to use other sources of income in connection with their voucher to cover the rent, however each public assistance program uses a specific procedure to determine a tenant’s rent share).
  • Failure to cooperate with the inspection process or refusing to correct inspection violations (required for many government programs), preventing the full use of your voucher.
  • Imposing different terms & conditions such as requiring more frequent inspections, higher housekeeping standards, etc.
  • Attempting to evict tenant because they receive government assistance, not for reasons related to lease violations.

I have seen advertisements that include the phrase “not section 8 approved,” “no vouchers allowed,”or “earned income only,” are these statements discriminatory?

Yes, these statements are discriminatory. Any advertisement that would steer people away because they receive public assistance would be discriminatory under MA Ch. 151 B.

Units cannot be pre-approved by public assistance programs. Property owners must submit required documentation and may also be required to have the unit inspected prior to move-in. Property owners cannot receive a waiver from going through the mandatory process of the specific public assistance program.

If the voucher administering agency suppresses payment due to contract violations am i responsible for the full rental amount?

In some situations the voucher administering agency may suppress subsidy payments until the violation is corrected or the contract between the agency and the property owner may be terminated. The response of the voucher administering agency will depend on the violation. Therefore it is important you speak with your voucher administering agency about the situation. If the contract between the administering agency and the property owner is suppressed but still in effect, you are not responsible for the full rent. You are only responsible for the tenant rent share listed in the contract. However, if the contract is terminated and you remain in the unit, you will be responsible for the full rental amount.

Where can I receive more information on fair housing?

You can contact the Fair Housing Manager at (617) 425-6681. He/she will discuss with you, your protections under both the state and federal fair housing laws. He/she also can assist you on where best to file a complaint.

You can contact any of the following organizations:

MA Commission Against Discrimination
One Ashburton Place
Rm. 601
Boston, MA 02108
Phone: (617) 994-6000
TTY: (617) 994-6196

Cambridge Human Rights Commission
51 Inman Street, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02139
Phone: (617) 349-4396
TTY: (617) 492-0235

Boston Fair Housing Commission
1 City Hall Plaza
Boston, MA 0220
Phone: (617) 635.4408

10 Causeway Street
Boston, MA 02222-1092
Phone: (617) 994-8300 or
(800) 827-5005
TTY: (617) 565-5453

*Although this fact sheet contains legal information it should not be interpreted as providing legal advice. Please contact an attorney if you seek legal advice and/or representation.

For help with fair housing matter please contact the Fair Housing Project by email at fairhousing@metrohousingboston.org or call  (617) 425-6681.

Communities we serve

Metro Housing|Boston serves individuals and families, as well property owners, in 30 communities throughout Greater Boston.

  • Arlington
  • Bedford
  • Belmont
  • Boston
  • Braintree
  • Brookline
  • Burlington
  • Cambridge
  • Chelsea
  • Everett
  • Lexington
  • Lynn*
  • Malden
  • Medford
  • Melrose
  • Milton
  • Newton
  • North Reading
  • Quincy
  • Reading
  • Revere
  • Somerville
  • Stoneham
  • Wakefield
  • Waltham
  • Watertown
  • Wilmington
  • Winchester
  • Winthrop
  • Woburn

*Metro Housing|Boston does not administer RAFT, Voucher Programs, or HomeBASE assistance in Lynn. See Lynn Housing Authority.
*In addition to the 30 communities listed above, Metro Housing|Boston administers rental voucher programs in Holbrook, Randolph, and Weymouth. If you are specifically seeking RAFT assistance in those communities,
you must apply instead to Housing Solutions. (http://housingsolutionssema.org).