This month marks the 47th year since the passage of the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA). While noting that anniversary, the acting head of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) highlighted some recent DOJ accomplishments. It remains important for professional apartment management to know about fair housing priorities at both the DOJ and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). First, HUD and DOJ continue to believe that fair housing is more than just about finding a place to live. Particularly in a time when recent national events have again raised the profile of racial divisions in our country, DOJ and HUD view fair housing as including equal access to good jobs, good schools, credit, transportation, safety as well as a range of opportunities and relationships. Here are some recent cases and initiatives covering various protected classes:
Race: In one fair housing discrimination case from 2014, in which it was alleged that management at an Ohio community told African American applicants that apartments weren’t available and made statements such as “black people are trouble,” DOJ obtained a payment of $175,000 to victims, a $25,000 civil penalty to the United States as well as an additional $650,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees. The settlement also mandated that the defendants hire an independent management company to operate all of their rental properties, hire an unaffiliated third party to test fair housing compliance, receive FHA training, and submit regular reports to HUD for the next three years.
Familial Status: DOJ resolved two familial status cases in which it was alleged management implemented policies that restricted children from common areas of the property or required constant supervision for anyone under 16. In those two cases, DOJ obtained $270,000 in monetary relief and changes to the alleged discriminatory practices.
Sex: In three recent cases, DOJ alleged that management employees engaged in a pattern or practice of sexually harassing female tenants and prospective tenants. The complaints asserted that the employees made repeated unwanted sexual comments and advances toward their female tenants, requested sexual acts for reduced rents, delayed evictions, and took adverse actions when those sexual overtures were resisted. DOJ was able to obtain over $4.6 million in monetary damages for the victims. Three more cases asserting sexual harassment were filed by DOJ in November 2014.
Disability: DOJ filed or settled a total of nine cases in 2014 alleging a failure to design and construct rental properties in compliance with the FHA accessibility guidelines promulgated by HUD.
Fair Lending: Since 2010, DOJ has settled 18 lawsuits alleging discrimination in mortgage lending, including pricing discrimination, steering, and redlining. Most of these cases involved allegations that if a borrower was African American or Hispanic, he or she was more likely to be placed in a subprime loan or pay more for a mortgage loan than if the borrower were a white with similar creditworthiness.
My point here is to simply note that HUD and DOJ (as well as private fair housing tester entities) are on the lookout for FHA violations. Indeed, in our fully digital world, any ad you place is subject to scrutiny. Any telephone conversation you have can be recorded. Any applicant might be a tester. As I have written before, ignorance of the law (especially one that has been on the books for now 47 years) is no excuse. As management, we have to do our best to get it right. We have no issue complying with the law – we just want to know the rules of the road. And if we make a mistake (inadvertent or otherwise), then you may need to speak with a lawyer like me.
Just A Thought.