What Is Discrimination in Housing?

Read this in: Spanish / Español
Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid


(Section 216.8 & 8A, and 216.12, Code of Iowa) (United States Code, Volume 42, Sections 3601 and following.)

What Is it Illegal for a Landlord to Consider?
Under Iowa law and federal law, a landlord or apartment manager in the process of choosing a tenant, advertising for tenants, or choosing the terms of a rental agreement with a tenant, may not discriminate against a person on the basis of RACE, COLOR, CREED, SEX, RELIGION, NATIONAL ORIGIN, DISABILITY or HANDICAP (physical or mental) or FAMILY STATUS (if the person is responsible for children or is pregnant). Similarly, a tenant can't be discriminated against on the basis of race, color, creed, sex, religion, national origin, disability, family status or age of any of that tenant's guests or visitors. Persons with disabilities may have other rights. Under Iowa law, discrimination against a person because of sexual orientation or gender identity is also prohibited.

Which Tenants Are Considered Disabled?
Generally, tenants with physical or mental problems which limit them in an important way would be covered. Also included are people who used to have a handicap, or are thought to have one. For example, people who test positive for exposure to the virus that causes AIDS are protected, even if they are not sick at all. The federal Fair Housing law states clearly, though, that people who are presently abusing drugs are not protected, and it is likely the Iowa law would be interpreted the same way.

How Does the Law Apply to Families with Children?
Forms of discrimination against families with children that may be against the law include:

  • Adults only policies
  • Actions to discourage families with children from renting or buying
  • Making available or denying a unit based on presence of children
  • Limits on the age and number of children allowed in a unit
  • Setting different rents and security deposits for families with children
  • Restricting families with children to only certain buildings or floors

The law covers the following types of housing:

  • Rental units
  • Single family dwellings
  • Condominiums
  • Mobile home parks
  • Cooperative apartments

Are There Situations Where Housing Discrimination Laws Don't Apply?
Both Iowa's fair housing law and the federal fair housing law have some exceptions. Iowa's housing discrimination law does not apply to the following situations:

  1. Housing provided by a religious institution, unless the religious institution owns or operates the housing for a commercial purpose, or unless the religion restricts membership on the basis of race, color, or national origin.
  2. Housing where the landlord lives in a building in which two households live independently of one another, and the landlord lives in one of those two apartments. The same is true if there are four units or fewer, if the owner of the property lives in one, and qualifies for the homestead tax credit for that dwelling.
  3. Housing where the landlord lives in a housing arrangement with three or fewer roomers," all in a single house set-up.
  4. There is an exception to the rule against discrimination against families with children. Certain housing set aside for the elderly can discriminate against families with children.

But, even though the Iowa fair housing law may not apply to a situation, other statutes might. For example, there are some statutes from Civil War days that also prohibit discrimination based on race, and which have no exceptions. (See, the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. §1982.) Thus, the general rule is that discrimination based on the categories listed is not legal. For more information about how discrimination laws apply to a specific situation, see an attorney.

Last Review and Update: Mar 15, 2022
Back to top