Fair Housing Laws

What Circumstances Do Fair Housing Laws Protect?

Fair housing laws protect many circumstances and identities. They do so by prohibiting discrimination in the housing market. That is, a landlord cannot treat you unfairly by denying you housing or renting to you under different terms if the reason for the difference is one of the below “protected classes.”


Anywhere in Wisconsin it is illegal to deny housing or to treat someone differently on the basis of: 

  • Sex
  • Race
  • Color
  • Sexual orientation
  • Disability
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Marital status
  • Family status
    • This includes having children in the home
  • Status as a survivor of:
    • Domestic violence
    • Sexual assault, or
    • Stalking
  • Lawful source of income
  • Age
  • Ancestry

For more information, review Wisconsin Statute 106.50, https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/document/statutes/106.50 

Dane County

In addition to the above, Dane County prohibits discrimination on additional grounds. If you believe a landlord may have relied on one of the below to treat you differently, they may have taken illegal action. In Dane County it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of:

  • Association with a tenant union
  • Domestic partnership status
  • Mental illness
  • Disability
  • Physical appearance
  • Gender identity
  • Receipt of housing or rental assistance
    • This includes: 
      • Section 8, 
      • Dane CORE assistance, and 
      • “Any form of financial contribution from a third party” that is intended to support affordable housing
  • Student status
  • Arrest record
    • Including, but not limited to, any information that indicates any law enforcement (police) or military authority has done any of the following to a person:
      • Questioned them, 
      • Apprehended them, 
      • Taken them into custody, 
      • Detained them, 
      • Held them for investigation, 
      • Arrested them, 
      • Charged, indicted, or tried them for any felony, misdemeanor, or any other offense.
  • Conviction record
    • Including, but not limited to, any information that indicates a person has been subject to any of the below by any law enforcement (police) or military authority:
      • Convicted of a felony, misdemeanor or other offense,
      • Placed on probation,
      • Fined,
      • Incarcerated,
      • Released on parole.
    • Conviction record also includes any information indicating that a person has been convicted of a civil ordinance violation (forfeiture).
  • Military discharge status, or
  • Political beliefs

For more information, review Dane County Ordinances Chapter 31, Fair Housing, https://www.countyofdane.com/documents/pdf/ordinances/ord031.pdf 

What Does Illegal Discrimination Look Like?

Illegal discrimination arises in various circumstances—some are obvious and some are more difficult to detect. To help you determine whether you may be experiencing illegal discrimination, consider the below questions.

  • A landlord told me they wouldn't rent a second-floor unit to me because I have children. Is this legal?
  • My rental manager is trying to charge me a monthly fee for my service animal. Is this legal?
  • A landlord told me no apartments were available, but I still see the complex advertised. I'm African American; could this treatment be because of my race?
  • I am transgender and have changed my name. When I informed my landlord of my new legal name they informed me that they had decided to not renew my lease. Is this legal?
  • My situation falls into multiple protected classes. I believe the combination of multiple circumstances has led my landlord to discriminate against me. Am I protected by fair housing law even if I can’t point to one single reason for my landlord’s behavior?

The above are just examples of common situations in which Fair Housing Law may be violated. They are often experienced in combination with other rental housing issues.

For example, the same tenant who believes she has been illegally denied an apartment because of her race may also be having trouble getting her application fees back from the landlord who denied her. This person would want to contact both the Tenant Resource Center and the Fair Housing Center.

What Law Governs Your Lease?

The Wisconsin Legislature made significant changes to the laws that govern rental housing, most recently in 2018.

If your lease was signed before April 18, 2018, different laws may apply to your situation than those that are in force today. Many factors can determine which laws apply to your situation, including when the problem occurred, when the lease was signed or renewed, and when an eviction took place.

The below documents summarize changes made to rental housing law in each year. Reviewing them may help you to identify if different laws apply to your situation:

More information on law changes is available here

Where Can I Get Help?

The Fair Housing Center of Greater Madison serves residents of Dane County. These services include:

  • Intake of fair housing complaints, case management, and counseling complainants on options for legal remedies
  • Investigation on behalf of people alleging housing discrimination
  • Fair housing presentations to housing consumers, providers, and the general public

Find Out More About Your Rights

If you are not sure whether you have a fair housing or tenant-landlord question, call either the Tenant Resource Center or Fair Housing Center.

If you call the Tenant Resource Center, please have your lease available so we can help you know what your rights and remedies may be. In some cases you may be entitled for your landlord to pay you double damages, court costs, and/or reasonable attorney’s fees resulting from suing your landlord.