The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced yet another Fair Housing Act (FHA) case settlement yesterday. In this case, the DOJ alleged that the owners and managers of a mobile home park in Illinois had discriminated against families with children and African Americans. To resolve the complaint, among other relief, the defendants agreed to pay a total $75,000 to settle allegations that they violated the FHA.
The agreement concluded a lawsuit asserting that the mobile home park violated the FHA by refusing to rent homes to African Americans and families with children. The factual allegations which made up the complaint were based on the results of testing conducted by DOJ’s fair housing testing program. Testing, of course, is a simulation of a housing transaction that compares responses given by housing providers to different types of applicants to probe whether discrimination may be taking place. Now, I am not a fan of testing such as this because the tester is being paid not to tell the truth and sometimes make assertions not backed up by the facts. While we all can agree that discrimination has no place in housing operations, I just do not like people being paid to lie and pretend to be interested in a home when they are not. In my view, leasing office team members need to focus on meeting the legitimate needs of our current residents and actual applicants. Nevertheless, courts have approved of fair housing testing and it is a tool used by DOJ (as well as the Department of Housing and Urban Development and private fair housing entities) to press discrimination claims. DOJ concluded here that the manager and part owner of the park falsely told African Americans inquiring about renting mobile homes that no homes were available, while telling white applicants that homes were available. The testing also revealed that the defendants discouraged families with children from applying.
Under the terms of the settlement, the defendants agreed to establish a settlement fund in the amount of $45,000 to compensate victims of the discriminatory practices. They will also will pay $30,000 in civil penalties to the United States. As is common in these cases, the agreement requires management to draft (and enforce) a nondiscrimination policy, to prepare a new nondiscriminatory application and rental procedures, as well as go through FHA educational training.
Takeaways from this case? Any applicant could be a tester. Testers have standing (legalese for the right to bring a claim). Ensure you treat each applicant with respect and appropriately go through the application process, particularly with respect to available units. Engage in the interactive process. Document the file. If you don’t, you may end up needing to speak with a lawyer like me.
Just A Thought.