Federal and state governments have passed laws to protect consumers from mortgage discrimination. If you suspect that you have been a victim, you may be able to take legal action.
Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws
The Equal Credit Opportunity Act applies to customers who want to take out a mortgage, refinance or take out a home equity loan. It prohibits lenders and mortgage brokers from discriminating against customers based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age and status as a recipient of public assistance.
The Fair Housing Act applies to customers who want to take out a mortgage or home equity loan, or a loan for home construction, repairs or improvements. It prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, handicap/disability and familial status.
What Lenders May and May Not Do
Creditors may ask for information on your race, national origin, sex and marital status, but they may not use that information to discriminate against you. A lender may consider your immigration status to figure out if you would have the right to remain in the United States long enough to repay a loan. Creditors may never ask your religion.
A lender may not discourage you from purchasing a home because of the neighborhood’s racial makeup. It may not inquire about your plans to have a family, but it may ask about expenses to care for your dependents. A lender may not charge you a higher interest rate than other customers or require a higher down payment for a prohibited reason.
What to Do if You Think a Lender Discriminated Against You
If your application is denied, you have the right to know the specific reason. If the lender doesn’t provide one when it informs you of the denial, ask for the reason.
Mortgage lenders that discriminate often try to cover it up by saying that their decisions were based on other, legal criteria. If you think you were a victim of discrimination, you can complain to the lender. If it refuses to change its decision and does not give you an explanation that you consider satisfactory, you can take legal action.
If you think the ECOA was violated, you can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. If you think the lender violated the Fair Housing Act, you can file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
You may be able to sue the lender in federal court to seek damages. If you can identify other people who have experienced similar discrimination, you may be able to file a class action lawsuit.
Some state and local governments have passed laws that provide additional protections. Check with your state’s Attorney General’s office or consult a local attorney to find out if the lender violated any state or local equal credit opportunity laws.