Fair Housing: Race Discrimination
There are protections in place to make sure all Americans can enjoy the same rights. One of the most essential functions of the federal fair housing laws is to prevent racial discrimination in housing. This encompasses all aspects of housing transactions, including the rental, sale, and financing of apartments and houses.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is the federal agency responsible for creating national policies and programs to enforce fair housing laws. Besides enforcing fair housing laws on racial discrimination, HUD has many programs directed towards vulnerable populations, including:
- People with disabilities
- The elderly
- The homeless
- Low-income workers
Whom Does the Fair Housing Act Protect?
Congress enacted the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) to promote equal opportunities in housing. The law is also known as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. The Act's signing followed soon after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Fair Housing Act, along with its amendments, states that property owners, financial institutions, and landlords may not discriminate on the basis of race and national origin. This is part of the protected classes that the law recognizes. Federal laws and this Act, along with its amendments, also prohibit discrimination based on sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation), religion, family status, marital status, disability, and more.
What are Fair Housing Act Violations?
The Fair Housing Act prohibits obvious forms of discrimination, such as racially restrictive covenants or outright segregation. However, discrimination comes in various forms. Some are more obvious than others, making it difficult to always recognize when it occurs. FHA violations tend to fall into three main categories:
- The sale and rental of housing
- Mortgage lending
- Other Illegal Activities (harassment, discriminatory advertisement)
The FHA covers various groups, including:
- Financial institutions, such as banks, savings and loans, credit unions, and other lenders
- Homeowners/Property owners
- Housing providers
- Real estate agents/real estate brokers
The Fair Housing Act forbids a party to act based on the race of the actual or potential buyer, tenant/renter, or applicant. Here are examples:
- Refusing to rent or sell housing
- Refusing to negotiate for housing
- Making housing unavailable
- Providing different terms to different people
- Setting different conditions or privileges for sale or rental of a property
- Denying access to or membership in a facility or service related to the sale or rental of housing
- Imposing different rates and terms on a loan for the financing of housing
- Refusing to make a mortgage loan
- Discriminating in appraising property
Read on below for more subtle examples of FHA violations that you might find more difficult to recognize:
- Redlining: Redlining is the unlawful tactic that banks and other institutions use when they refuse to offer credit in a specific community based on discrimination due to the race of the residents. The Department of Justice monitors redlining.
- Blockbusting: Real estate agents and housing developers use this tactic to lower property values. They urge minority groups, such as Hispanics, to move to a mostly white area while encouraging whites to flee the neighborhood due to the increase in diversity.
- Steering: Steering happens when someone tries to persuade a buyer, seller, or renter to make a choice based on their link to any of the protected classes. For instance, a real estate agent only shows an African American family houses in a mostly black neighborhood, even though their budget aligns with houses in other areas, and they did not voice interest in that specific neighborhood. The Supreme Court has had many hearings on racial steering.
Types of Housing Covered under the FHA
The Fair Housing Act covers almost all forms of housing, public or private. The housing includes mobile home parks, condominiums, and co-ops. There are, however, several exceptions to these prohibitions.
The exceptions include:
- Owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units
- Single-family housing sold or rented without the use of a broker
- Housing operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members
If You Have Experienced Racial Discrimination in Housing
If you think that you have suffered racial discrimination under the FHA, you can contact HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO). HUD provides a Housing Discrimination Complaint Form. You may use this form if you wish to register a complaint against a property owner. The form is available online or from a local HUD office. The complaint should include the following:
- Your name and address
- Name and address of the person your complaint is against
- Address of the property involved
- Brief description of the alleged violations
- Date on which the violation occurred
After HUD receives the complaint, HUD will determine whether your state or local agency has the same powers as HUD and refer the case to the local agency if they are competent to act on the complaint. If HUD retains the case, they will investigate and determine whether there are grounds to believe that the party violated the Fair Housing Act. If reasonable grounds exist, HUD will try to reach an agreement with the violator. If the parties can reach an agreement, HUD will not pursue further action.
Your Right to Representation
If necessary, the case may be heard in an administrative hearing at a local HUD office or before a similar local agency in your jurisdiction. You have the right to be represented if your case goes to an administrative hearing and may choose to be represented by a HUD attorney or seek legal counsel on your own.
At the administrative hearing, the administrative law judge will determine whether you can recover actual damages, including humiliation, pain, and suffering. You may also qualify for equitable relief (non-financial awards), which may include the following:
- Requiring that you have access to available housing be made available to you
- Ordering that the violator pay a civil penalty to the federal government
- Ordering the payment of reasonable attorney's fees and costs
Furthermore, you are entitled to file suit in federal court or state court within two years of any violation. You are entitled to bring a suit if you have not signed a conciliation agreement and an administrative law judge has not started a hearing.
Get Legal Help With Your Fair Housing / Race Discrimination Claim
Racial discrimination in housing is divisive, unfair, and illegal. It limits your choices by denying you available options. Have you suffered racial discrimination when applying for an apartment or purchasing a home or have been otherwise discriminated against? Find out about your potential claim by contacting an attorney. A qualified discrimination specialist can help you take the next steps.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
Contact a qualified civil rights attorney to help you protect your rights.