Late last month, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that the owner/operator of a mobile home park in Fort Myers, Florida had resolved a case alleging that the defendant had discriminated against African Americans in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). In its complaint, the DOJ asserted that the defendant falsely told African Americans that no units or sites were available, but allegedly told similarly situated white individuals that units and/or sites were indeed available for rent. Furthermore, DOJ’s complaint stated that the defendant encouraged prospective white renters that they should live at the park while at the same time discouraging African Americans and telling African Americans that they should look elsewhere. The complaint also claims that the defendant made disparaging remarks and gave inaccurate information about units/lots. The underlying data which made up the case came from, not surprisingly, DOJ’s Fair Housing Testing Program.
Pursuant to the terms of the agreement, the defendant agreed to establish a settlement fund of $30,000 to compensate alleged victims of the discriminatory practices and pay a $10,000 civil monetary penalty to the United States. As is common in these types of cases, the agreement also requires that the defendant implement non-discriminatory application and rental procedures, undergo fair housing training, and provide periodic updates to DOJ.
Without commenting on the merits, this case reflects another cautionary tale in which data from fair housing testers was used to form the basis of a FHA complaint. I know I have written in this space before, but fair housing testers are out there. They operate in pairs in an effort to probe a leasing office to determine if, in their opinion, a housing provider is not giving the same information on availability or pricing to individuals in different protected classes. The best way to protect against fair housing tester cases is to train your leasing office to respond appropriately and professionally to every prospect. Document (time and date) when individuals visit and complete applications. Our files (either paper or electronic) are often the best evidence to prove we have done it right. And if testers ultimately arrive at your property (which, of course, you will not know at the time), you may need to speak with a lawyer like me to help explain what really happened and why.
Just A Thought.