One of the functions of the Prince George's County government is to ensure that all persons in the County have equal opportunity to pursue their lives free from discrimination. Through the Office of Human Rights and the Human Rights Commission, the County focuses on eliminating discriminatory practices in housing and residential real estate, employment, law enforcement, education, public accommodations, and commercial real estate. This article provides an overview of the provisions related to housing.
Read the law: Prince George’s County Code, Subtitle 2 §2-185
Topics on this page:
- Office of Human Rights and Human Rights Commission
- Prohibited acts relating to housing
- Complaint procedure
- Prohibited statements
- Prohibition on retaliation: coercion, threats, or interference
- Promoting property transfer
- Real estate signs
- Spousal income requirements
“Disability” means a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of a person's major life activities, a record of having such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment.
"Discrimination" means acting, failing to act, or unduly delaying an action regarding any person because of race, religion, color, sex, national origin, age (except as required by State or Federal law), occupation, familial status, marital status, political opinion, personal appearance, sexual orientation, disability, or gender identity, in such a way that the person is adversely affected.
"Familial status" means one or more persons under 18 years living with a parent or other person who has legal custody of the minor or the designee of the parent or other person (with written permission). This protection also applies to a person who is pregnant or is in the process of getting legal custody of a minor.
“Gender Identity” means an individual's actual or perceived gender, including a person's gender-related appearance, expression, image, identity, or behavior, and whether or not those gender-related characteristics differ from the characteristics customarily associated with the person's assigned sex at birth.
"Housing" means a dwelling for the use of one or more individuals, groups, or families, any mobile home site, and any land offered for sale, sublease, or lease for the construction of housing.
"Occupation" means the principal lawful activity of one's life. Persons protected under this category include students, welfare recipients, retired persons, persons with disabilities, and any persons irrespective of income.
"Personal appearance" means outward appearance irrespective of sex, concerning bodily condition or characteristics, manner or style of dress, and manner or style of personal grooming, including, but not limited to hairstyle or beards.
"Political opinion" means opinion relating to government or the conduct of government or relating to political parties authorized to participate in primary elections in Maryland.
"Sexual orientation" means a person's preference or practice regarding homosexuality, heterosexuality, or bisexuality, or being regarded or identified as having such a preference.
"Solicitation" is defined as inviting or inducing, for monetary gain, by means of going uninvited onto the property of the person to be solicited; contacting the person by telephone, telegraph, or messenger without having been requested to do so; or distributing handbills or other advertisements on private property or private vehicles without having been requested by the owner of the property or the vehicle.
Read the law: Prince George’s County Code, Subtitle 2 §2-186
Office of Human Rights and Human Rights Commission
The Office of Human Rights (OHR) and the Human Rights Commission (HRC) are two distinct entities that work together to address human rights issues in the County. Here's an overview of their roles and how they interact:
Office of Human Rights (OHR): The agency responsible for enforcing and implementing local, state, and federal anti-discrimination laws within Prince George's County. Its primary focus is to promote equal opportunity and protect individuals from discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity. The Investigation Division of the OHR investigates complaints of discrimination. The Public Outreach and Education Division educates the public about their rights and provides outreach and advocacy services.
Human Rights Commission (HRC): An independent body consisting of 13 members appointed by the County Executive and confirmed by the County Council. HRC works in an adjudicatory capacity, independently from the OHR. The HRC is empowered to enforce the civil rights laws of the County. Primary duties of the HRC are to:
- conduct administrative hearings involving claims of unlawful discrimination;
- serve as the civil rights policy arm of county government;
- and perform community outreach activities aimed at providing information to citizens about cultural diversity and civil rights enforcement.
The Commission possesses various enforcement powers, such as:
- the ability to administer oaths,
- issue subpoenas to compel witness testimony and document production during formal hearings,
- issue cease and desist orders,
- mandate affirmative actions, and
- provide monetary relief, including damages up to $200,000 for humiliation and embarrassment.
When the HRC determines that a violation of this law has occurred, it serves as a conclusive finding. Failure to comply with a HRC order can be enforced by the Circuit Court, and a final decision made by the HRC can be appealed to the Circuit Court.
Prohibited acts related to housing
Prohibited acts related to housing in Prince George's County includes the following:
- Refusing to sell, lease, sublease, rent, or transfer any interest in housing based on
- national origin,
- marital status,
- political opinion ,
- personal appearance,
- sexual orientation,
- physical or mental handicap/disability,
- familial status (families with children),
- gender identity,
- immigration status, or
- source of income.
- Claiming housing is not available to buy or rent when it is, in fact, available.
- Denying housing based on protected characteristics.
- Discriminating in denying or restricting access to real estate or rental housing services.
- Discriminating in the terms or conditions of a sale or lease of housing.
- Discriminating in furnishing facilities, repairs, improvements, services, or conditions of occupancy.
- Engaging in discriminatory advertising or announcements that state a preference or limitation based on protected characteristics.
- Using discriminatory statements to persuade a person to sell or lease housing based on the prospective entry of individuals from specific groups into the neighborhood.
- Discriminating against individuals with disabilities in the sale or rental of housing. Includes refusing to make reasonable accommodations in rules or permitting reasonable modifications of the premises.
- Discriminating in the sale, lease, sublease, assignment, or other transfer of a housing unit, by inquiring about or requiring proof of immigration or citizenship status.
- Attempting to get a person to leave a housing unit by disclosing or reporting the person’s immigration status. Threats to disclose or report are also prohibited. Disclosing immigration status in retaliation for filing a complaint is also prohibited.
It's important to note that the law does not require making a dwelling available to a person whose tenancy would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others or result in substantial physical damage to the property of others.
Read the law: Prince George’s County Code, Subtitle 2 §2-210
To address housing discrimination complaints the following procedures are followed:
Complaint Filing: Discrimination complaints must be filed with OHR within 1 year of the alleged act of discrimination.
Investigation Initiation: OHR must start its investigation within 30 days after receiving the complaint.
Investigation Completion: The investigation must be completed within 100 days after receiving the complaint. The HRC is responsible for gathering evidence and conducting interviews.
Administrative Disposition: The final administrative disposition of the complaint should be reached within 1 year after receipt of the complaint. The administrative disposition reviews the evidence from the investigation and decides whether the alleged discrimination occurred. If the disposition determines that no violation occurred, the Executive Director may dismiss the complaint.
NOTE: these timelines serve as guidelines to ensure prompt handling of discrimination complaints, but specific circumstances or complexities may affect the duration of the process.
Conciliation: If the investigation shows housing discrimination has taken place, OHR will attempt to mediate a resolution. OHR cannot dismiss a housing discrimination complaint solely because the complainant refuses to accept a reasonable conciliation agreement. Any conciliation agreement related to housing discrimination will generally be made public (unless the complainant and responded agree it should remain private).
Read the law: Prince George’s County Code, Subtitle 2 §2-203
Election of Judicial Determination: If the investigation suggests that housing discrimination has occurred, either party can elect to have the case decided in the Circuit Court rather than through a hearing before the HRC. This choice must be made within 20 days of receiving the findings of the investigation. If a party elects for a hearing before the Circuit Court, the party must inform the Executive Director, and all other complainants and respondents.
If the Court finds that a discriminatory housing practice has occurred, the Court may award actual or punitive damages. Additionally, the court may allow the prevailing party to recoup reasonable attorney's fees and costs.
Public Administrative Hearing: If attempts at conciliation are unsuccessful and neither party elects for a judicial determination, a formal public hearing is scheduled. The hearing is presided over by either the entire HRC or a panel of Commissioners. Prior to the public hearing, Commission proceedings are generally treated as confidential, except in cases where both the complainant and respondent provide written consent for the release of information. However, if the respondent requests it, the identity of the complainant must be disclosed.
Read the law: Prince George’s County Code, Subtitle 2 §2-203.2
- Discrimination that would otherwise be unlawful is permitted for the leasing of rooms or apartments in an owner-occupied dwelling with a maximum of 3 rental units. However, the printing and publishing provisions of the law still apply to this type of housing.
- Read the law: Prince George’s County Code, Subtitle 2 §2-210(d)
- Discrimination based on age or familial status is allowed in housing operated in connection with a retirement or senior citizen home. Additionally, the age and familial status provisions do not apply to housing provided under a federal or state program specifically designed for elderly individuals, housing intended for and exclusively occupied by persons aged 62 or older, or housing intended and operated for occupancy by at least one person aged 55 or older per unit, subject to compliance with certain federal regulations.
- Read the law: Prince George’s County Code, Subtitle 2 §2-210(b)
- A religious organization or a nonprofit organization controlled by a religious organization may limit or give preference to individuals of the same religion in the sale, rental, or occupancy of dwellings it owns or operates. However, this exception does not apply if membership in the religion is restricted based on race, color, sex, national origin, age, occupation, marital status, political opinion, personal appearance, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, familial status, gender identity, immigration status, citizenship status, or source of income.
- Read the law: Prince George’s County Code, Subtitle 2 §2-210(f)
It is prohibited to make oral or written statementsthat suggest a future occupant/owner from a protected category may lead to:
- Reduction in property values.
- Changes in the neighborhood's resident composition related to any of the protected classes.
- Increase in criminal or antisocial behavior in the neighborhood where the property is located.
- Decline in the quality of schools, churches, businesses, and other neighborhood amenities.
Read the law: Prince George’s County Code, Subtitle 2 §2-217
Prohibition on retaliation: coercion, threats, or interference
Engaging in retaliation, or being complicit in retaliation by another person, is strictly prohibited. It is illegal to retaliate against individuals who oppose acts of discrimination, refuse to participate in discriminatory acts, or aid in proceedings related to discrimination.
Read the law: Prince George’s County Code, Subtitle 2 §2-209
No one may solicit the sale or purchase of single-family dwellings unless the solicitation consists only of random, Solicitation of single-family dwellings for sale or purchase is prohibited, except for random, isolated inquiries that do not constitute a systematic solicitation covering a significant portion of a neighborhood. If an owner is induced to sell a dwelling due to a prohibited solicitation or statement, they have the right to file a civil action in Circuit Court against the responsible real estate dealer, broker, agents, or employees. The legal action must be initiated within 1 year from the date of the sale. If the plaintiff prevails in court, they may be awarded damages, reasonable attorney's fees, and court costs.
Lending institutions must not discriminate in lending money, guaranteeing loans, accepting mortgages or deeds of trust, or any other way of making funds available for the purchase, construction, repair, maintenance, etc., of housing. A lending institution may base its actions on a person's income and financial ability.
Read the law: Prince George’s County Code, Subtitle 2 §2-211
Promoting property transfer
A person cannot convince or urge another person to buy or sell a house by making statements about a property currently owned, rented, or occupied by an individual in a protected category.. Similarly, the law prohibits making false, careless, or intentionally deceptive statements about a resident's protected characteristic when discussing changes in personal circumstances with the intention of securing a property listing.
Real estate signs
Signs advertising the sale or rental of a property must not be used if the property is not being offered as advertised. Once a property has been sold or rented, the sign may be left in place for a maximum of 14 days after the execution of a contract of sale or rental.
Spousal income requirements
When a landlord seeks to determine whether a married couple meets income requirements, landlord must consider the income of both spouses.
Read the law: Prince George’s County Code, Subtitle 2 §2-219.01