Promoting Language Access for Equal Fair Housing Opportunities

Language Access


With limited affordable housing opportunities available, we examine some of the primary housing discrimination hurdles faced by LEP persons and how meaningful language access and language access plans can help ensure that non-native English speakers are provided with equal housing opportunities.


Amid the escalating reports on the deepening affordable housing crisis, individuals facing language barriers who are in need of housing assistance find themselves at an elevated risk of discrimination. In this socio-economic landscape, it becomes increasingly imperative to grasp the intersection of non-native English communication needs and the provisions put in place by the Fair Housing Act (FHA) in order to advocate for and safeguard home-seekers with limited English proficiency (LEP).

Before delving into specific challenges faced by LEP individuals, it is crucial to examine the purpose and provisions of the Fair Housing Act. Originating as an extension of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the FHA prohibits housing discrimination based on various factors such as race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, and familial status.

Despite the seemingly straightforward nature of these protections, the application of the FHA becomes murky where language access is involved. LEP individuals fall loosely within the protected “national origin” category of the FHA, a significant safeguard given the considerable challenges language barriers pose for those seeking affordable housing. However, providing language access, specifically, to LEP home-seekers is not currently regulated with enough clarity to always guarantee fair treatment. The absence of an interpreter to facilitate clear communication and the lack of translated legal documents often create substantial obstacles for LEP individuals attempting to secure suitable homes.


Language Access


Three Primary Ways LEP Persons Face Housing Discrimination


As they seek affordable home opportunities, individuals with limited English proficiency are impacted by housing discrimination in both big and small ways. Despite significant efforts being made by government agencies and advocates, the gap between guaranteed language access and fair housing arrangements is still much too wide.

Vulnerability to Housing Exploitation

When language barriers are present, LEP persons can be vulnerable to significant exploitation. Unscrupulous housing providers can take advantage of language barriers by:

  • Changing terms/agreements in their favor without the LEP tenant’s knowledge because documents weren’t translated, etc.
  • Being dishonest about pricing and/or denying LEP persons the opportunity to negotiate terms that native English speakers would be able to negotiate
  • Denying LEP tenants from having needs addressed by claiming to not understand


Not all housing inequalities are intentional or antagonistic: simply neglecting to provide interpreters and translated documents is enough to create harmful circumstances. In one example, a deaf Houston resident in an important hearing with the Houston Housing Authority (HHA) was not provided access to an ASL interpreter. She was forced to have her daughter interpret the proceedings for her, resulting in a misunderstanding that ultimately led to her losing a housing voucher and receiving an eviction notice.

This was a mistake that could have been avoided if she had been provided access to a trained interpreter! The official United State’s LEP website provides more examples such as this one, as well as how HUD is resolving those situations when possible.

Difficulty Obtaining Loans/Mortgages

Real estate transactions involve lots of “wordy” paperwork spanning all the way from property descriptions to contracts and loan documents. The dense wording of many of the legal financial and property documents cause headaches for native English speakers, but for LEP individuals it’s even more overwhelming. Without access to translated versions of mortgage or loan documents, LEP home buyers are exposed to harm by either misunderstanding or intentional deceit.

Discrimination against LEP individuals from mortgage/loan providers exacerbates the already existing challenges. Discriminatory practices can include:

  • Discriminating when appraising property
  • Refusing to provide information regarding the fine print of loans like interest, possible penalties, etc.
  • Imposing different terms on a loan
  • Steering a borrower to a loan with less favorable terms to exploit language barriers


Fortunately the Fair Lending protections within the FHA are designed to fight these kinds of practices. Access to an interpreter when communicating with loan providers, and especially access to translated documents, helps close the gaps created by language barriers.

Lack of Housing Availability

A common form of housing discrimination faced by LEP individuals, and especially immigrants, is in how the sale or rental of housing may be made unavailable to them.
This includes situations such as:

  • Refusing to rent or sell to an LEP person
  • Denying the opportunity to inspect a property, or denying that it is actually for sale or rent
  • Discouraging the rental or purchase of a property
  • Evicting a tenant (or their guest) based on their limited English proficiency

Avenues for Helping LEP Persons Access Fair Housing


To help ensure that the legal right to fair housing is protected for LEP persons, the FHA specifies certain requirements of housing authorities, including requiring meaningful language access and providing guidelines for how and when to create a Language Access Plan.

Fair Housing Act


Meaningful Access

  1. Meaningful Access, as defined by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, is “language assistance that results in accurate, timely, and effective communication at no cost to the LEP individual. For LEP individuals, meaningful access denotes access that is not significantly restricted, delayed, or inferior as compared to programs or activities provided to English-proficient individuals” (read more about this policy definition in Office of Housing Counseling: Counseling Limited English Proficiency (LEP) Toolkit).

In the context of fair housing, meaningful access denotes that LEP persons should expect to be provided with specialized legal interpreters and accurately translated legal documents that give them equal housing opportunities at no charge to themselves.

Housing authorities and landlords alike have turned to contracting with professional language services to offer interpretation services and translated documents to LEP persons inquiring about housing. By breaking down the language barrier with a skilled interpreter and providing documents that the prospective home buyer/renter can fully understand, meaningful language access allows them a fair chance to find the best housing for their needs.

Language Access Plans

Language access plans are used to broadly establish language service provisions put in place by various large governments departments such as HUD and used more narrowly to create a set of guidelines explaining how a governmental or nonprofit organization that is receiving federal funding (such as a smaller affordable housing agency) will address the identified needs of the LEP populations it serves.

While there is no guarantee that a language access plan will be adhered to, it can be an important resource when advocating for fair housing opportunities for LEP persons.

Do You Need Language Access Support?


Looking for a professional interpretation and translation service to provide fair housing access to prospective LEP tenants or home buyers? Our experienced translators will ensure that your documents are high-quality, localized for accuracy, and ready to meet the needs of your clients. And our team of remote interpreters have the expertise to navigate intricate conversations around housing needs.

Get started today with a free consultation!

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