Housing and Urban Development
Washington, D.C. 20410-2000
January 9, 1995
MEMORANDUM FOR: FHEO Office Directors, Enforcement Directors, Staff, Office of
Investigations, Field Assistant General Counsel
FROM: Roberta Achtenberg, Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, E
Guidance Regarding Advertisements Under 804(c) of the Fair Housing Act
The purpose of this memorandum is to provide guidance on the procedures for the
acceptance and investigation of allegations of discrimination under Section 804(c) of the
Fair Housing Act (the Act) involving the publication of real estate advertisements. (This
memorandum does not address fair housing issues associated with the publication of
advertisements containing human models, and does not address 804(c) liability for making
Recently, the number of inquiries involving whether or not potential violations of the
Act occur through use of certain words or phrases has increased, and these issues cannot,
in some situations, be answered by referring to decided cases alone. In some
circumstances, the Advertising Guidelines, published at 24C.F.R. Part 109, have been
interpreted (usually by persons outside of HUD) to extend the liability for advertisements
to circumstances which are unreasonable.
This guidance is meant to advise you of the Department's position on several of these
Previous guidance already requires that Intake staff review a potential complaint,
gather preliminary information to ascertain whether the complaint states a claim under the
Act, and consult with counsel on any legally questionable matters before the complaint is
filed. Likewise, jurisdictional issues such as standing and timeliness should also be
established prior to filing.
If the Advertising Guidelines, this memorandum, or a judicial decision clearly indicate
that the language used in the advertisement is a potential violation of Section 804(c) and
the criteria for establishing jurisdiction are met, the complaint should be filed and
processed. Any complaint concerning an advertisement which requires an assessment of
whether the usage of particular words or phrases in context is discriminatory, requires
the approval of Headquarters FHEO before a complaint is filed. If the advertisement
appears to be discriminatory, but the Advertising Guidelines, this memorandum, or a
Judicial decision do not explicitly address the language in question, supervisory staff
must also obtain approval of Headquarters FHEO before the complaint is filed. Potential
complaints regarding advertisements which do not meet the above descriptions should not be
Where there is a question about whether a particular real estate advertising complaint
should be filed, relevant information regarding the factual and/or legal issues involved
in the complaint should be gathered, and counsel should be consulted prior to contacting
the potential respondent publisher. The matter should then be referred to the Office of
Investigations for review. Such referrals may take the form of a short memo, reciting the
applicable advertisement language, and any factual or legal analysis which is appropriate.
Section 804(c) of the Act prohibits the making, printing and publishing of
advertisements which state a preference, limitation or discrimination on the basis of
race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin. The prohibition
applies to publishers, such as newspapers and directories, as well as to persons and
entities who place real estate advertisements. It also applies to advertisements where the
underlying property may be exempt from the provisions of the Act, but where the
advertisement itself violates the Act. See 42 U.S.C. 3603 (b).
Publishers and advertisers are responsible under the Act for making, printing, or
publishing an advertisement that violates the Act on its face. Thus, they should not
publish or cause to be published an advertisement that on its face expresses a preference,
limitation or discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap,
familial status, or national origin. To the extent that either the Advertising Guidelines
or the case law do not state that particular terms or phrases (or closely comparable
terms) may violate the Act, a publisher is not liable under the Act for advertisements
which, in the context of the usage in a particular advertisement, might indicate a
preference, limitation or discrimination, but where such a preference is not readily
apparent to an ordinary reader. Therefore, complaints will not be accepted against
publishers concerning advertisements where the language might or might not be viewed as
being used in a discriminatory context.
For example, Intake staff should not accept a complaint against a newspaper for running
an advertisement which includes the phrase female roommate wanted because the
advertisement does not indicate whether the requirements for the shared living exception
have been met. Publishers can rely on the representations of the individual placing the ad
that shared living arrangements apply to the property in question. Persons placing such
advertisements, however, are responsible for satisfying the conditions for the exemption.
Thus, an ad for a female roommate could result in liability for the person placing the ad
if the housing being advertised is actually a separate dwelling unit without shared living
spaces. See 24 CFR 109.20.
Similarly, Intake staff should not file a familial status complaint against a publisher
of an advertisement if the advertisement indicates on its face that it is housing for
older persons. While an owner-respondent may be held responsible for running an
advertisement indicating an exclusion of families with children if his or her property
does not meet the "housing for older persons" exemption, a publisher is entitled
to rely on the owner's assurance that the property is exempt.
The following is policy guidance on certain advertising issues which have arisen
recently. We are currently reviewing past guidance from this office and from the Office of
General Counsel and will update our guidance as appropriate.
1. Race, color, National origin. Real estate advertisements should state no
discriminatory preference or limitation on account of race, color, or national origin. Use
of words describing the housing, the current or potential residents, or the neighbors or
neighborhood in racial or ethnic terms (i.e, white family home, no Irish) will create
liability under this section.
However, advertisements which are facially neutral will not create liability. Thus,
complaints over use of phrases such as master bedroom, rare find, or desirable
neighborhood should not filed.
2. Religion. Advertisements should not contain an explicit preference, limitation or
discrimination on account of religion (i.e. no Jews, Christian home). Advertisements which
use the legal name of an entity which contains a religious reference (for example,
Roselawn Catholic Home), or those which contain a religious symbol, (such as a cross),
standing alone, may indicate religious preference. However, if such an advertisement
includes a disclaimer (such as the statement "This Home does not discriminate on the
basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, handicap or familial status")
it will not violate the Act. Advertisements containing descriptions of properties
(apartment complex with chapel), or services (kosher meals available) do not on their face
state a preference for persons likely to make use of those facilities, and are not
violations of the Act.
The use of secularized terms or symbols relating to religious holidays such as Santa
Claus, Easter Bunny, or St.Valentine's Day images, or phrases such as Merry Christmas,
Happy Easter, or the like does not constitute a violation of the Act.
3. Sex. Advertisements for single family dwellings or separate units in a multi-family
dwelling should contain no explicit preference, limitation or discrimination based on sex.
Use of the term master bedroom does not constitute a violation of either the sex
discrimination provisions or the race discrimination provisions. Terms such as
"mother-in-law suite" and "bachelor apartment" are commonly used as
physical descriptions of housing units and do not violate the Act.
4. Handicap. Real estate advertisements should not contain explicit exclusions,
limitations, or other indications of discrimination based on handicap (i.e., no
wheelchairs). Advertisements containing descriptions of properties (great view,
fourth-floor walk-up, walk-in closets), services or facilities (jogging trails), or
neighborhoods (walk to bus-stop) do not violate the Act. Advertisements describing the
conduct required of residents ("non-smoking", "sober") do not violate
the Act. Advertisements containing descriptions of accessibility features are lawful
5. Familial status. Advertisements may not state an explicit preference, limitation or
discrimination based on familial status. Advertisements may not contain limitations on the
number or ages of children, or state a preference for adults, couples or singles.
Advertisements describing the properties (two bedroom, cozy, family room), services and
facilities (no bicycles allowed) or neighborhoods (quiet streets) are not facially
discriminatory and do not violate the Act.
Please contact Sara R. Pratt, Director, Office of Investigations or Susan Forward,
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Enforcement and Investigations, for further information.