Virginia Poverty Law Center

Housing Discrimination or Retaliation

This page explains what discrimination and retaliation can look like in housing. Discrimination and retaliation can be hard to fight to court, and the law is not always clear. If you experience discrimination, you should talk to a lawyer for advice about your situation.

What is housing discrimination?

The law protects tenants from some types of discrimination by landlords. Your landlord shouldn’t treat you unfairly because of your:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Sex
  • Old age
  • Where your rent money comes from, called ‘source of funds’
  • Having children, called ‘familial status’
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • Disability
  • Military status

Illegal discrimination could look like one of these things:

  • Not renewing a lease because the tenant has a new baby.
  • Not accepting rent payments from the government or a charity.
  • Refusing to let a tenant keep a therapy animal they need.

Note: A small landlord with four or fewer rental units can legally discriminate based on where a tenant’s rent payment comes from, like a Section 8 voucher.

What is housing retaliation?

Landlord retaliation against tenants is only illegal in some cases. The law says landlords can't end a lease, raise the rent, or take other action to punish a tenant because they:

  • Complained about the property to the health department or code enforcement.
  • Joined or helped start a tenants’ association.
  • Complained about the landlord not following Virginia's rental housing law.
  • Testified against the landlord in court.

Note: If you are behind on rent, your landlord can still evict you, even if the real reason is retaliation.

What can I do about it?

If your landlord retaliates against you for one of the reasons described above, contact your local Legal Aid to see if they can help you fight it.

If your landlord illegally discriminates against you, report it. Your landlord is not allowed to retaliate against you for reporting what you think is discrimination, even if you are wrong. Virginia's Fair Housing Office investigates housing discrimination. HOME of Virginia and Legal Aid might also be able to help you.

Collect any evidence you have that shows discrimination or retaliation. This could include things like:

  • Letters or emails from your landlord.
  • Text messages with your landlord.
  • Reports you made to government offices about your home or landlord.
  • Names of people who saw or heard your landlord’s actions and who are willing to talk about it.

More resources

The Virginia Fair Housing Office for help with discrimination

HOME of Virginia for help with discrimination

Legal Aid for help with discrimination or retaliation

Take action

Learn what you can do to try to stay in your home and avoid eviction.

Fight my eviction

Sometimes, you can't avoid eviction if your landlord wants you out. But it is always good to learn how the law can protect you and what you can do about your situation.