Housing Discrimination & Harassment

What Is Fair Housing?

The information provided below is for informational purposes only.

Fair housing is the right to choose and live in a home free from unlawful discrimination.

Maine’s laws protect people from housing discrimination based on: race, color, religion, sex, national origin, whether or not you have kids, receive public aid, disability (also: source of income, marital status, sexual orientation, and gender identity). Also, it is illegal for a landlord to treat you differently than other tenants for these reasons.

Note: The state law barring discrimination based on sexual orientation also protects transgender people. In addition, it prohibits discrimination based on another person’s belief that you are gay or transgender, even if you are not.

The Fair Housing Act gives you the legal right to file a complaint. Moreover, it is illegal for anyone to threaten you with eviction or to harass you for filing a fair housing complaint against them - if you think you are being discriminated against when looking for a home, applying for housing or home financing, or if your landlord isn’t accommodating your disability.

Frequently Asked Questions?

What housing is covered?

Fair Housing rules apply to most housing, whether you rent or buy a home. Covered rental housing includes:

  • apartments and houses owned by private landlords, and
  • "subsidized housing," like public housing run by a housing authority.

There are a few small exceptions. For example: some parts of the federal law do not apply if the landlord lives in the building and has no more than 4 rental units. The state law does not cover a 2-unit building where the landlord lives in one of the units. It also does not cover a landlord renting out 4 rooms or fewer in his own home.

Does the landlord have the right to select a tenant they want?

The refusal to rent cannot be based on a protected class. The protected classes include race/color, religion, sex, physical or mental disability, marital status, gender identity, national origin, and familial status. All applicants must be given the same rental requirements and judged by the same standards.

How do the disability protections work?

People with disabilities must be treated the same as anyone else. And they don’t have to disclose that they have disabilities.

What if I get worse treatment because I reported a landlord or helped someone to report?

The laws also say that it is illegal for anyone to threaten you, or treat you wrongly, because you tried to enforce fair housing laws. If this happens, you can get help. Witnesses, caseworkers and others who help you with your case are also protected from retaliation.

Can a landlord refuse to rent to me because I have children?

No. The laws say that landlords cannot refuse to rent to people with children, or because you are pregnant or trying to get custody of a child. There are exceptions for certain housing that is set aside as elderly housing. Also, housing codes can limit the number of people who can safely live in a housing unit, depending on its size. It can be legal to refuse to rent the unit if you have too many people.

Can a landlord treat me differently because I get help from the town, the state, or the U.S government?

Maine law says that you must be treated the same as other tenants. This means that the landlord cannot charge you a different rent or fees or make different rules for you.

What does discrimination based on religion mean?

Discrimination based on religion may come from the housing provider, the housing provider’s employees, or other tenants.  Here are some examples:

  • A housing provider tells you he needs to know your religion before he will rent to you
  • A housing provider refuses to rent to you because you are a woman who wears a hijab
  • A housing provider tells you that you won’t like the neighborhood because there isn’t a mosque or synagogue nearby
  • A housing provider, its employee, or other tenant says rude things about your religious practices or dress
  • A housing provider, its employee, or other tenant says Muslims are terrorists and not welcome
  • A housing provider ignores your complaints that its employee or another tenant is harassing you based on your religion, such as by using offensive names or painting swastikas or other symbols of  religious hatred
  • A housing provider allows some tenants to display Christian images but won’t allow you to display religiously significant items
  • A housing provider allows Christian tenants to use community rooms for religious purposes but does not give Muslim tenants the same opportunity

What if someone is threatening or harassing me?

It is also illegal for anyone to harass you because of your race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, gender identity, disability, sex, or sexual orientation. This includes your landlord, a maintenance employee, or a neighbor.  There are two types of housing harassment.

What if someone is sexually harassing me or asking for sexual favors?

It is illegal for anyone to sexually harass you or ask sexual favors in exchange housing. Sexual harassment is the most common type of housing harassment.  Statistically, low-income women, racial and ethnic minorities, people with limited English proficiency, and people with disabilities are the most vulnerable to sexual harassment in housing.  Some examples of sexual harassment in housing include:

  • A housing provider asks for rent in the form of sexual favors instead of rent
  • A housing provider says that a necessary repair, like fixing the plumbing, will be done if the tenant performs a sexual favor
  • A housing provider makes sexual comments in front of the tenant or the tenant’s family
  • A housing provider inappropriately touches a tenant’s body.
  • A housing provider refuses to help when the tenant reports sexual harassment by another tenant

Quid pro quo (Latin phrase that means “this for that.”) harassment and hostile environment harassment.   

Quid pro quo harassment happens when victims are asked to do something that they may not want to do in exchange for something of value that the housing provider will do.  Hostile environment harassment happens when victims are subjected to severe, pervasive conduct that interferes with or takes away their ability to use and enjoy the housing.

The proposed rule says that quid pro quo harassment happens when a victim is subjected to an unwelcome request or demand, even if the victim agrees to or submits to the demand.  The proposed rule says that hostile environment harassment happens when a victim is subjected to unwelcome conduct that is so severe and pervasive that it prevents the victim from using or enjoying the housing.  

Severe or continued harassment may be a hate crime. For help, contact your local police department or the Maine Attorney General’s Civil Rights Division.

What if I am trying to buy a house and a seller or money lender discriminates against me?

These rules also apply if you are trying to buy a home.

  • A seller cannot refuse to sell to you or make it harder for you to buy
  • A real estate agent cannot refuse to serve you
  • No lender of a housing-related loan can refuse you a loan or make it harder for you to get a loan

The discrimination must be based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin or ancestry, disability, having children in your home (“familial status”), or receipt of public assistance.

Where can I go to file a complaint?

The City of Lewiston does not have authority to provide legal consult or investigate discrimination complaints as to fair housing. Please contact:  

Maine Human Rights Commission
Maine State Housing Authority

Disclaimer: This website is not intended as legal advice. Any responses to specific questions are based on the facts provided by the Maine Human Rights Commission. If you need legal advice, please consult an attorney.