Overview of Housing Discrimination

Learn about the different forms of housing discrimination and protections under Massachusetts law.

Table of Contents


We enforce the anti-discrimination laws of Massachusetts which protects you if are treated differently or unfairly based on your membership in a protected class by your landlord or condo association, and when you are seeking new housing.

MCAD is empowered by statute to enforce the following anti-discrimination laws:

Primary civil rights regarding discrimination M.G.L. c. 151B

Public accommodations civil rights M.G.L. c. 272, §§92A, 98, 98A

Lead paint M.G.L. c. 111, § 199A

As a property owner, landlord, property manager, mortgage lender, and/or real estate agent, it is illegal to do the following based on membership in a protected class:           

  • Refusing to rent or sell or negotiate housing
  • Representing a dwelling as unavailable to push the prospective tenant to another location based on a protected category. This is a discriminatory practice called “steering.”
  • Providing different lease or sale terms or privileges to different people
  • Setting different conditions or privileges for sale or rental of a property
  • Denying access to or membership in a facility or service related to the sale or rental of housing
  • Imposing different rates and terms on a loan
  • Refusing to make a mortgage loan
  • Discrimination in appraising property
  • Making discriminating inquiries


Disability Discrimination in Housing

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing and related transactions on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, "handicap" and national origin. The American Disabilities Act is integrated into Massachusetts law.

It is illegal to refuse to rent, sell, or deal with a person, or otherwise deny a unit or making it unavailable due to a disability. This includes discriminating in the terms, conditions, or privileges of a sale, rental, occupancy, or services, falsely representing that a unit is not available, limiting access to brokerage services, or selectively enforcing land use, zoning, or other ordinances due to a disability. 

A landlord may not ask an applicant whether the applicant, the applicant’s family, or any friend or associate has a disability. A landlord may not inquire about the nature or severity of the disability and cannot require the production of medical records. Landlords should additionally not attempt to assess whether an applicant is capable of living independently, only whether the applicant meets essential eligibility requirements as per the terms of tenancy in the lease agreement.

Public housing must provide reasonable accommodations and modifications based on a disabled person’s needs. Private housing with 10 or more units must provide modifications, at the expense of the owner. Failing to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services after a request from a handicapped person, or otherwise refusing to permit a handicapped person to make reasonable modifications at his or her own expense, is illegal.    


Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals

Service animals and emotional support animals are common requests for a reasonable accommodation in housing based on a disability.

Service animals and emotional support animals are animals who provide assistance or emotional support to an individual with a disability. In Massachusetts, there are no licensing or certification requirements for service animals.

Discrimination Against Families with Children and Familial Status

Landlords cannot refuse to sell or rent a dwelling to a family based solely on the family including children. Refusal to rent or lease any accommodations to any person because the person has a child or children shall occupy the premises with such a person is illegal. Landlords cannot treat families with children differently.

Additionally, landlords cannot refuse to sell or rent a dwelling based solely on the familial status of the individual(s).

Lead Paint

It is a violation of the Massachusetts anti-discrimination laws for a landlord to refuse to sell or rent a dwelling due to the presence of lead paint in the dwelling. It is also illegal to refuse to sell or rent a dwelling because it would trigger a duty to remove lead paint.

Similarly, a landlord cannot evict or refuse to rent/renew a lease to families with children under 6 years old due to lead paint compliance.

The Lead Law requires the removal or covering of lead paint hazards in homes built before 1978. Owners of rental properties are legally responsible for any lead poisoning of a child resulting from lead hazards in the rental property. Refusal to rent or steering families with small children from properties with lead paint present is illegal.

Public Assistance

Landlords may not discriminate against potential or current tenants based on receipt of public assistance or requirements of the program, including Section 8, SSDI, and Medicare assistance.

Discriminatory Advertisements

It is unlawful to make, print, publish or cause to be made, printed or published in any media, any notice, statement or advertisement, with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling, that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination because of a protected class. An example of discriminatory advertisements would be listing a dwelling with a sign that says: "No Section 8"

Contact   for Overview of Housing Discrimination


Open M-F 9am-5pm. Messages are returned within 2 business days.


MCAD Main Fax 617-994-6024
Last updated: May 31, 2024

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