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The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, or national origin in housing. The Act deals with the sale, rental or financing of housing, as well as any advertisements or statements with respect to housing.
The Act applies to almost all housing in the United States. It applies to private landlords and property management firms, property owners, federally-assisted housing, public housing authorities, realtors, and lenders and insurers of housing. It also applies to individuals, such as neighbors, who intimidate, coerce or interfere with the fair housing rights of others. Discriminatory activities include:
- Imposing different terms and conditions of sale or rental
- Falsely denying the availability of housing for sale or rental
- Refusing to make mortgage loans
- Harassing or intimidating persons exercising fair housing rights based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status or national origin.
HUD can help persons who believe they are victims of discriminatory housing practices.
HUD can and will investigate complaints or refer them to States and localities with fair housing laws that provide substantially equivalent rights and remedies. The Department handles over 12,000 inquiries from potential complainants annually. Of those, last year about 6300 complaints were filed. HUD also refers cases to state and local agencies which enforce laws which are equivalent to the Act..
In cases where the claims may amount to a criminal, as well as civil violation, HUD assists the complainant in filing a civil complaint and then refers the case to the FBI for a criminal investigation. Generally, those referrals are made within 24 hours of when HUD receives the complaint. After the criminal investigation is complete, HUD resumes its civil investigation. Civil remedies remain important, even if there has been a criminal prosecution, since victims of housing discrimination may not be compensated for all their injuries as a result of the criminal prosecution.
HUD will engage in efforts to resolve issues in a complaint through conciliation.
WHERE TO FILE COMPLAINTS
Persons wishing to file complaints may contact a Fair Housing Enforcement Center through one of the following numbers:
ADMINISTRATIVE HEARINGS AND OTHER ENFORCEMENT ACTIONS
If conciliation is not successful and there is reasonable cause to believe that a discriminatory housing practice has occurred, HUD will issue a Charge of Discrimination. A hearing on the Charge may be held before an Administrative Law Judge.
A HUD attorney will bring the case on behalf of the complainant and, if discrimination is found after the trial, the ALJ can order:
- Monetary awards to compensate for actual damages, including those for mental distress and for expenses arising from the discrimination, such as increased housing costs
- Injunctive relief to prevent further discrimination
- Assessment of a civil penalty to the United States to vindicate the public interest
- Payment of reasonable attorney's fees and costs
Any party to a Charge of Discrimination can also choose to have the case heard in U.S. District Court within 20 days after receipt of the Charge of Discrimination. In these cases an attorney from the Department of Justice brings the case on behalf of the complainant. The district court can provide injunctive relief, award actual damages, attorney's fees and costs and can also award punitive damages to the complainant.
Content Archived: January 20, 2009