Language Barriers and the Fair Housing Act

3 key factors in fair housing for people with limited English proficiency 

Where do language barriers and the Fair Housing Act (FHA) intersect? First it is important to understand the purpose and provisions of the Act. The FHA is an extension of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 that prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, and familial status.

Individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP) are among those protected by the FHA. That’s a good thing! Language barriers create a significant hurdle for LEP individuals and families seeking housing. Without the help of an interpreter facilitating clear communication and translated documents that can be easily understood, language barriers often present the biggest challenge for LEP persons trying to obtain good homes.

Here are the main ways people with limited English proficiency are impacted by housing discrimination, and how fair housing can be made more accessible for LEP persons.

Language Barriers Can Lead to Housing Exploitation 

When language barriers impede clear and good communication, LEP persons can be vulnerable to exploitation. Unscrupulous housing providers can take advantage of language barriers by:

  • Changing terms/agreements in their favor that the LEP tenant does not realize have been changed because documents were not 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 not to understand

Not all housing issues are intentional or antagonistic; simply failing to provide interpreters and translated documents is enough to create a potentially harmful situation. In one recent example, a deaf Houston resident in an important hearing before 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, which resulted in a misunderstanding that ultimately led to her losing a housing voucher and receiving an eviction notice.

This mistake could have been avoided had she been provided access to a trained interpreter!

Difficulty Obtaining Loans/Mortgages 

Loans, contracts, legal notices, property descriptions: real estate transactions involve lots of verbose paperwork. The dense wording of many loan agreements can be confusing even for native English speakers, but for LEP individuals such documentation can be especially overwhelming. Without access to translated versions of mortgage or loan documents, LEP home buyers can be exposed to harm by either misunderstandings or even deceit.

Discrimination against LEP individuals by mortgage/loan providers exacerbates the already existing challenges. Harmful and illegal practices can include:

  • Discriminating when appraising property

  • Refusing to provide information regarding the fine print on loans pertaining to 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. Having an interpreter and translated documents available during discussions between persons of limited English proficiency and loan providers helps close the gap created by language barriers.


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 things like:

  • 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.

Helping LEP Persons Looking for Fair Housing 

To help ensure that the legal right to fair housing is protected for LEP persons, the FHA specifies certain requirements for housing authorities.

Housing authorities and landlords alike have turned to contracting with professional language service providers to offer reliable interpreting 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, it allows them not only to offer a fair chance at find ing the best housing for their needs, but also to comply with the law.

Are you looking for a professional interpreting and translation service to provide fair housing access to prospective LEP tenants or home buyers? Our experienced linguists ensure that translations of your important documents are high-quality, fully accurate, 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.

Contact us for a free consultation!