Know Your Rights: MA Housing Discrimination Q&A
Frequent questions and answers concerning housing discrimination in the state of Massachusetts. For advice or questions not answered here, please call GLAD Answers at (800) 455-GLAD, email GLADanswers@glad.org, or visit GLADAnswers.org.
Q: Are LGBTQ individuals protected from housing discrimination in Massachusetts?
Q: What is prohibited by the housing anti-discrimination law in MA?
A: The housing laws prohibits discrimination by those engaged in most aspects of the housing business, including:
- Financing housing, whether for profit or not
Most often, these claims involve a refusal by an owner, landlord, or real estate broker to sell, lease, or even negotiate with a person about the housing they desire to obtain. But other practices are forbidden, too, such as inquiring into or making a record of a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or discriminating with respect to mortgage loans.
Q: Are any landlords exempt from the housing anti-discrimination law?
A: The main exemption from the law is for owner-occupied buildings that have two units or less. The law is focused on protecting people in “multiple dwelling[s].” If a building only has two apartments and the owner lives in one of them, the exemption may apply.
There are a few other very technical exemptions. If you think you may be in a situation where an exemption applies, contact GLAD Answers for more information
Q: What happens after a complaint is filed with MCAD?
A: The MCAD assigns an investigator to look into your case. The parties may engage in limited “discovery” – a legal process which allows the other side to examine the basis of your claim and allows you to examine their justifications and defenses, through written questions, requests for documents, and depositions. Ultimately, if the case is not dismissed for technical reasons, a Commissioner will decide if there is probable cause to credit your allegations.
If probable cause is found, the case will go to settlement proceedings. If negotiations fail to produce a settlement agreeable to all parties, the case proceeds further with more discovery and possibly a hearing.
Even before probable cause is determined in a housing case, the MCAD may go to court to seek an order forbidding the respondent from selling, renting, or otherwise disposing of the property at issue while the case is pending. Once probable cause is found, the respondent must be notified of its right to have its case heard in court rather than at the MCAD.
If probable cause is found lacking, the case is over unless you appeal. There are special rules and time constraints on appeals within the MCAD that must be observed strictly.
Contact GLAD Answers for more information.
Q: What are the legal remedies the MCAD may award for discrimination if an individual wins their case there?
A: The remedies for a successful complainant for housing cases may include damages (expenses actually incurred because of unlawful action related to moving, storage, or obtaining alternate housing) and civil fines to be paid to the state.
Q: How do I file a complaint of discrimination under Massachusetts law?
A: You may file in person or in writing at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). The MCAD prefers for people to file in person, unless an attorney has prepared the complaint for them. Call in advance to set up an appointment and find out what you need to bring.
Boston: (617) 994-6000, visit their website.
Springfield: (413) 739-2145, visit their website.
Worcester: (508) 799-8010, visit their website.
New Bedford: (774) 510-5801, visit their website.
Q: Do I need a lawyer?
A: No. The process is designed to allow people to represent themselves. However, GLAD strongly encourages people to find lawyers to represent them throughout the process. Not only are there many legal rules governing the MCAD process, but employers and other defendants are likely to have legal representation.
Contact GA for info on lawyer referrals
Q: What are the deadlines for filing a complaint of discrimination?
A: Complaints of discrimination must be filed at the MCAD within 300 days of the last discriminatory act or acts. There are very few exceptions for lateness, and GLAD encourages people to move promptly in filing claims
Q: Can I also file a discrimination complaint with a federal agency?
A: Yes, in many cases. Contact GLAD Answers if you want to learn more:
For more information about your rights and protections, and for referrals, you can contact GLAD Answers, GLAD’s free & confidential legal information line.