Overview of Housing Discrimination

Learn about the different kinds of discrimination that can happen related to housing and how we protect you under Massachusetts law.

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.

The Law

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


There are certain exemptions in Fair Housing Laws, based on age, owner-occupied residential properties, religious organizations, and other exemptions under federal law.

Types of Housing Discrimination

Disability Discrimination in Housing and Service Animals

The American Disabilities Act is integrated into Massachusetts law. Under the Fair Housing Act, 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.

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.   

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.

Families with 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. In properties with three dwelling units or less when one apartment is occupied by an elderly or infirmed person for whom the presence of children would constitute a hardship, there exists an exemption.

Disability Discrimination in Housing and Service Animals

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.

Lead Paint

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.


As a property owner, landlord, property manager, mortgage lender, and/or real estate agent, it is illegal to:          


  • Refuse to rent or sell or negotiate housing
  • Represent a dwelling as unavailable when it is actually available. 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


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.