For most cases filed administratively under our Fair Housing Act (FHA) – whether the complaint is filed with HUD or a state, city, or county agency – the law requires that the investigation be completed within 100 days. That means the agency or department is to make its determination if there is “probable cause” to believe discrimination took place during that time. While the 100 day timeline remains in the law, it is not always followed.
When the deadline is missed and the investigation is not completed within the 100 days, what I see is that each party is left in limbo – the complainant wants to know if they will receive housing assistance or money damages and the respondent remains waiting to learn if they will be exonerated. While I am mindful of the administrative burden and tight budgets faced by our respective government entities, justice is not well served by discrimination cases which languish.
The fact remains that HUD and its partner agencies carry an “aged” case load. In fiscal year 2012, for example, there were 1,132 cases which passed the 100 day mark (an increase in 56 cases from the prior fiscal year, but an improvement from 1,353 aged cases from five years ago). I have a drawer full of what I refer to as “100 day” letters from the investigator noting that they are still working on my case. Another problem with old cases is that witnesses can be hard to locate and memories understandably dim after months and months (or in some cases after years).
Now, is it always HUD’s fault when a case is delayed? In a word, no. There are certainly circumstances when I ask for some additional time, but it is typically an extra week or two.
What can we do the reduce this number? One suggestion is for HUD to run allegations through a more rigorous screening process before accepting a case for filing. This will help ensure that specious allegations or issues raised by an obviously disgruntled resident have some basis in reality before forcing me to defend against it. Another option could be to put some teeth in the law and mandate a case gets dismissed if the 100 day deadline is missed. Should it be dismissed on the 101st day? Of course not. But by the 365th day? I can make an argument for that.
Just A Thought.