HUD has played a lead role in administering the Fair Housing Act since its adoption in 1968. The 1988 amendments, however, have greatly increased the Department's enforcement role. First, the newly protected classes have proven significant sources of new complaints. Second, HUD's expanded enforcement role took the Department beyond investigation and conciliation into the area of mandatory enforcement.
Complaints filed with HUD are investigated by the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO). If the complaint is not successfully conciliated, FHEO determines whether reasonable cause exists to believe that a discriminatory housing practice has occurred. Where reasonable cause is found , the parties to the complaint are notified by HUD's issuance of a Determination, as well as a Charge of Discrimination, and a hearing is scheduled before a HUD administrative law judge. Either party - complainant or respondent - may cause the HUD-scheduled administrative proceeding to be terminated by electing instead to have the matter litigated in Federal court. Whenever a party has so elected, the Department of Justice takes over HUD's role as counsel seeking resolution of the charge on behalf of aggrieved persons, and the matter proceeds as a civil action. Either form of action - the ALJ proceeding or the civil action in Federal court - is subject to review in the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Significant Recent Changes
- The Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995 (HOPA) makes several changes to the 55 and older exemption. Since the 1988 Amendments, the Fair Housing Act has exempted from its familial status provisions properties that satisfy the Act's 55 and older housing condition.
First, it eliminates the requirement that 55 and older housing have significant facilities and services designed for the elderly. Second, HOPA establishes a good faith reliance immunity from damages for persons who in good faith believe that the 55 and older exemption applies to a particular property, if they do not actually know that the property is not eligible for the exemption and if the property has formally stated in writing that it qualifies for the exemption.
HOPA retains the requirement that senior housing must have one person who is 55 years of age or older living in at least 80 percent of its occupied units. It also still requires that senior housing publish and follow policies and procedures that demonstrate an intent to be housing for persons 55 and older.
An exempt property will not violate the Fair Housing Act if it includes families with children, but it does not have to do so. Of course, the property must meet the Act's requirements that at least 80 percent of its occupied units have at least one occupant who is 55 or older, and that it publish and follow policies and procedures that demonstrate an intent to be 55 and older housing.
A Department of Housing and Urban Development rule published in the April 2, 1999, Federal Register implements the Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995, and explains in detail those provisions of the Fair Housing Act that pertain to senior housing.
- Changes were made to enhance law enforcement, including making amendments to criminal penalties in section 901 of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 for violating the Fair Housing Act.
- Changes were made to provide incentives for self-testing by lenders for discrimination under the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. See Title II, subtitle D of the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act, 1997, P.L. 104 - 208 (9/30/96).
Basic Facts About the Fair Housing Act
What Housing Is Covered?
The Fair Housing Act covers most housing. In some circumstances, the Act exempts owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, single-family housing sold or rented without the use of a broker, and housing operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members.
What Is Prohibited?
In the Sale and Rental of Housing: No one may take any of the following actions based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap:
- Refuse to rent or sell housing
- Refuse to negotiate for housing
- Make housing unavailable
- Deny a dwelling
- Set different terms, conditions or privileges for sale or rental of a dwelling
- Provide different housing services or facilities
- Falsely deny that housing is available for inspection, sale, or rental
- For profit, persuade owners to sell or rent (blockbusting) or
- Deny anyone access to or membership in a facility or service (such as a multiple listing service) related to the sale or rental of housing.
In Mortgage Lending: No one may take any of the following actions based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap (disability):
- Refuse to make a mortgage loan
- Refuse to provide information regarding loans
- Impose different terms or conditions on a loan, such as different interest rates, points, or fees
- Discriminate in appraising property
- Refuse to purchase a loan or
- Set different terms or conditions for purchasing a loan.
In Addition: It is illegal for anyone to:
- Threaten, coerce, intimidate or interfere with anyone exercising a fair housing right or assisting others who exercise that right
- Advertise or make any statement that indicates a limitation or preference based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or handicap. This prohibition against discriminatory advertising applies to single-family and owner-occupied housing that is otherwise exempt from the Fair Housing Act.
Additional Protection if You Have a Disability
If you or someone associated with you:
- Have a physical or mental disability (including hearing, mobility and visual impairments, chronic alcoholism, chronic mental illness, AIDS, AIDS Related Complex and mental retardation) that substantially limits one or more major life activities
- Have a record of such a disability or
- Are regarded as having such a disability
your landlord may not:
- Refuse to let you make reasonable modifications to your dwelling or common use areas, at your expense, if necessary for the disabled person to use the housing. (Where reasonable, the landlord may permit changes only if you agree to restore the property to its original condition when you move.)
- Refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services if necessary for the disabled person to use the housing.
Example: A building with a no pets policy must allow a visually impaired tenant to keep a guide dog.
Example: An apartment complex that offers tenants ample, unassigned parking must honor a request from a mobility-impaired tenant for a reserved space near her apartment if necessary to assure that she can have access to her apartment.
However, housing need not be made available to a person who is a direct threat to the health or safety of others or who currently uses illegal drugs.
Requirements for New Buildings
In buildings that are ready for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, and have an elevator and four or more units:
- Public and common areas must be accessible to persons with disabilities
- Doors and hallways must be wide enough for wheelchairs
- All units must have:
- An accessible route into and through the unit
- Accessible light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other environmental controls
- Reinforced bathroom walls to allow later installation of grab bars and
- Kitchens and bathrooms that can be used by people in wheelchairs.
If a building with four or more units has no elevator and will be ready for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, these standards apply to ground floor units.
These requirements for new buildings do not replace any more stringent standards in State or local law.
Housing Opportunities for Families
Unless a building or community qualifies as housing for older persons, it may not discriminate based on familial status. That is, it may not discriminate against families in which one or more children under 18 live with:
- A parent
- A person who has legal custody of the child or children or
- The designee of the parent or legal custodian, with the parent or custodian's written permission.
Familial status protection also applies to pregnant women and anyone securing legal custody of a child under 18.
Exemption: Housing for older persons is exempt from the prohibition against familial status discrimination if:
- The HUD Secretary has determined that it is specifically designed for and occupied by elderly persons under a Federal, State or local government program or
- It is occupied solely by persons who are 62 or older or
- It houses at least one person who is 55 or older in at least 80 percent of the occupied units, and adheres to a policy that demonstrates an intent to house persons who are 55 or older.
A transition period permits residents on or before September 13, 1988, to continue living in the housing, regardless of their age, without interfering with the exemption.
HUD is ready to help with any problem of housing discrimination. If you think your rights have been violated, the Housing Discrimination Complaint Form is available for you to download, complete and return, or complete online and submit, or you may write HUD a letter, or telephone the HUD Office nearest you. You have one year after an alleged violation to file a complaint with HUD, but you should file it as soon as possible.
What to Tell HUD:
- Your name and address
- The name and address of the person your complaint is against (the respondent)
- The address or other identification to the housing involved
- A short description to the alleged violation (the event that caused you to believe your rights were violated)
- The date(s) to the alleged violation
Where to Write or Call:
Send the Housing Discrimination Complaint Form or a letter to the HUD Office nearest you or you may call that office directly.
If You Are Disabled:
HUD also provides:
- A toll-free TTY phone for the hearing impaired: 1-800-927-9275.
- Tapes and braille materials
- Assistance in reading and completing forms
What Happens when You File a Complaint?
HUD will notify you when it receives your complaint. Normally, HUD also will:
- Notify the alleged violator of your complaint and permit that person to submit an answer
- Investigate your complaint and determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe the Fair Housing Act has been violated
- Notify you if it cannot complete an investigation within 100 days of receiving your complaint
HUD will try to reach an agreement with the person your complaint is against (the respondent). A conciliation agreement must protect both you and the public interest. If an agreement is signed, HUD will take no further action on your complaint. However, if HUD has reasonable cause to believe that a conciliation agreement is breached, HUD will recommend that the Attorney General file suit.
If HUD has determined that your State or local agency has the same fair housing powers as HUD, HUD will refer your complaint to that agency for investigation and notify you of the referral. That agency must begin work on your complaint within 30 days or HUD may take it back.
What if You Need Help Quickly?
If you need immediate help to stop a serious problem that is being caused by a Fair Housing Act violation, HUD may be able to assist you as soon as you file a complaint. HUD may authorize the Attorney General to go to court to seek temporary or preliminary relief, pending the outcome of your complaint, if:
- Irreparable harm is likely to occur without HUD's intervention
- There is substantial evidence that a violation of the Fair Housing Act occurred
Example: A builder agrees to sell a house but, after learning the buyer is black, fails to keep the agreement. The buyer files a complaint with HUD. HUD may authorize the Attorney General to go to court to prevent a sale to any other buyer until HUD investigates the complaint.
What Happens after a Complaint Investigation?
If, after investigating your complaint, HUD finds reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred, it will inform you. Your case will be heard in an administrative hearing within 120 days, unless you or the respondent want the case to be heard in Federal district court. Either way, there is no cost to you.
The Administrative Hearing:
If your case goes to an administrative hearing HUD attorneys will litigate the case on your behalf. You may intervene in the case and be represented by your own attorney if you wish. An Administrative Law Judge (ALA) will consider evidence from you and the respondent. If the ALA decides that discrimination occurred, the respondent can be ordered:
- To compensate you for actual damages, including humiliation, pain and suffering.
- To provide injunctive or other equitable relief, for example, to make the housing available to you.
- To pay the Federal Government a civil penalty to vindicate the public interest. The maximum penalties are $16,000 for a first violation and $65,000 for a third violation within seven years.
- To pay reasonable attorney's fees and costs.
Federal District Court
If you or the respondent choose to have your case decided in Federal District Court, the Attorney General will file a suit and litigate it on your behalf. Like the ALA, the District Court can order relief, and award actual damages, attorney's fees and costs. In addition, the court can award punitive damages.
You May File Suit: You may file suit, at your expense, in Federal District Court or State Court within two years of an alleged violation. If you cannot afford an attorney, the Court may appoint one for you. You may bring suit even after filing a complaint, if you have not signed a conciliation agreement and an Administrative Law Judge has not started a hearing. A court may award actual and punitive damages and attorney's fees and costs.
Other Tools to Combat Housing Discrimination:
If there is noncompliance with the order of an Administrative Law Judge, HUD may seek temporary relief, enforcement of the order or a restraining order in a United States Court of Appeals.
The Attorney General may file a suit in a Federal District Court if there is reasonable cause to believe a pattern or practice of housing discrimination is occurring.