Know Your Rights: Housing and Homelessness

While we still desperately need a national law that explicitly prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, existing laws provide real protection in many situations. We encourage anyone who cannot resolve housing issues through federal, state, or local fair housing complaint processes to seek legal help.


What Laws Protect Me?

The following laws offer protection for transgender people in housing:

  • The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on sex in the sale or rental of housing and in mortgage lending. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and many courts now interpret this law to protect transgender people.
  • HUD rules for federally-funded housing. Federal regulations explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity, sexual orientation, or marital status in all federally-funded housing programs. These regulations apply to public and assisted housing and rental assistance (voucher) programs that receive federal funds, including homeless shelters and other temporary housing, as well as to federally-insured home mortgages.
  • State and local nondiscrimination laws. Nearly every state prohibits sex discrimination in housing. As of 2021, the following states currently prohibit both gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination in housing: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington, as well as more than 200 cities and counties. The following states interpret their prohibitions on sex discrimination to include sexual orientation and/or gender identity: Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Many state and local nondiscrimination laws provide greater protections than those afforded by the federal Fair Housing Act. Be sure to check your state and locality’s nondiscrimination laws to see what protections you have.

What Are My Housing Rights?

While 23 states, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands explicitly prohibit anti-LGBT housing discrimination, trans people are also protected under federal fair housing law, including the Fair Housing Act and federal regulations,  under the category of sex discrimination. Federal law covers housing rentals and sales, as well as residential service programs and some temporary shelters.

What types of discrimination are illegal?
It is illegal for a housing provider to do any of the following because you are transgender, or because you are perceived as not conforming to gender stereotypes:

  • Refuse to admit you to a homeless shelter
  • Tell you housing is unavailable when it is available
  • Set different terms, conditions, or privileges for sale or rental of a dwelling
  • Provide different housing services or facilities
  • Deny you a mortgage loan, or impose different terms or conditions on a mortgage loan
  • Deny you property insurance
  • Conduct property appraisals in a discriminatory manner
  • Harass, coerce, intimidate, or interfere with you exercising your fair housing rights

The law also prohibits discrimination because of race, color, national origin, religion, familial status, or disability (including if you are, or are perceived as, a person living with HIV/AIDS). In addition, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or marital status is prohibited in all federally-funded housing.

What are the housing rights of LGBT families?
Discrimination against LGBT families in any federally-funded housing or federally-insured mortgage lending is illegal, regardless of marital status. However, in private rental and home sales outside of these programs, some cases of discrimination based solely on sexual orientation or marital status may not fall within the protections of current federal law. Many state and local laws provide this protection.

Can a housing provider ask if I am transgender?
Asking whether you are transgender may be an indication of discrimination if you are subsequently denied housing or provided substandard housing. If a housing provider receives federal funding, the law specifically forbids asking about your gender identity or sexual orientation. In homeless shelters or other temporary housing that houses men and women separately, staff may ask if you are male or female if they are unsure where to house you. If asked, you can tell them the gender you identify as. Demands for medical or legal evidence of your gender may be evidence of discrimination.

Can I be turned away from gender-specific housing or forced into housing with the wrong gender?
Refusing to provide housing consistent with a person’s gender identity because they are transgender constitutes discrimination based on sex and/or gender identity.

What Kinds of Questions Can a Housing Provider Ask About My Gender?

In many circumstances, asking about your gender or transgender status might be a sign of discrimination. Housing programs can ask you to voluntarily share demographic information—such as being LGBT—to help them provide better services in the future. And a program that has gender-specific housing can ask you which housing is appropriate for you, based on your gender identity. However, a housing provider may not ask you questions about your body, your medical history, or make demands for medical, legal, or other documentation related to your gender for purposes of gender-specific housing.

What Can I Do About Housing Discrimination?

Make housing providers aware of the law
Many housing providers are not aware that it is illegal for them to turn someone away because they are LGBT or do not conform to gender stereotypes. Simply making a provider aware of the law may resolve the problem. However, if an issue cannot be resolved informally, you may file a complaint of housing discrimination.

File a complaint of housing discrimination
If you have experienced one or more of the forms of discrimination described above—or you believe you may be subject to a discriminatory act such as an eviction—you may file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Depending on the facts of your situation different laws may apply, which may be enforced by different federal, state, and local government offices. Because it may be difficult to determine which laws may apply to your situation, A4TE currently recommends that all LGBT-related fair housing complaints be directed to HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. An attorney is not required, and most complaints are resolved without going to court.

A complaint generally must be filed with HUD within one year of a discriminatory action. If you experience discrimination because you are transgender, make sure to state that you believe you experienced discrimination based on sex. Provide as much detail as possible. Write down the date, time, location, witnesses, and people involved in any events that were discriminatory or disrespectful. Also keep any documents the discriminating entity gives you.

Once you file a report of discrimination, a HUD representative will contact you to determine whether the agency can undertake a formal investigation. If you do not get a response, you can follow up at the office you initially contacted.

If you have experienced housing discrimination, you can report it to HUD by telephone, mail, or online, at no cost. To report discrimination you can either:

  • Call toll-free: 1 (800) 669-9777
  • Fill out an online form at the Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • Print a form and mail it to the regional office listed on the form

The Fair Housing Act also permits you to bring a lawsuit in federal court against a housing provider that has engaged in discrimination based on sex, race, color, national origin, religion, familial status, or disability. You do not need to file a complaint first to do this. However, a lawsuit can be a lengthy and expensive process and it may be difficult to succeed without an attorney. Alternatively, if you file a complaint with HUD and the agency does not find reason to believe discrimination occurred, you can later file a lawsuit in federal court. A full explanation of the Fair Housing Act complaint process can be found here. 

If you are facing discriminatory treatment, or have successfully resolved an issue of housing discrimination, consider sharing your story with A4TE so we can use it in our advocacy efforts and reduce future discrimination. If you successfully resolve a housing situation, and especially if any of the material here helped, we want to hear from you as well.

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