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Housing Discrimination Must Be Intentional to Sue Property Owners

Updated on February 13, 2015

Property Owners Cannot Be Punished for Accidental Discrimination

Anyone accused of violating the Fair Housing Act must have intended to engage in discrimination before they can be sued successfully, a federal court in Washington, D.C., ruled recently.
The ruling limits the number of lawsuits that realtors, landlords and property sellers could face.
Until the court’s recent ruling, anyone whose housing policies had a discriminatory affect could be sued, even if the discrimination was accidental.
The U.S. District Court decision in a lawsuit filed by the American Insurance Association invalidates a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development rule.
The rule said property owners could be fined or sued for any housing policies that have a “disparate impact” on minorities, the elderly, women and other protected groups. A “disparate impact” means the effect is different for one group compared with another in a way that discriminates between them.
The federal court said HUD overstepped its authority by interpreting the Fair Housing Act to mean it could forbid “disparate impact” discrimination.
Instead, HUD could only forbid “intentional” discrimination, the court said.
The Fair Housing Act, also known as the 1968 Civil Rights Act, and its amendments forbid:
— A refusal to sell or rent a dwelling to any person because of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability or family status.
- Discrimination in the terms, conditions or privilege of the sale or rental of a dwelling.
- Advertising the sale or rental of a dwelling indicating preference or discrimination against protected groups of people.
The federal court said HUD’s rule that creates liability for property owners who do not intend to discriminate was “nothing less than an artful misinterpretation of Congress’ intent.”
“This is yet another example of an administrative agency trying desperately to write into law that which Congress never intended to sanction,” the court said.
The case is American Insurance Ass'n v. U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development, No. CV 13-00966 (RJL), 2014 WL 5802283 (D.D.C. Nov. 7, 2014).

Only property owners who intend unfair discrimination can be punished under the law.
Only property owners who intend unfair discrimination can be punished under the law.

Should property owners who unfairly discriminate in housing practices be punished under the law?

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    • Tom Ramstack profile imageAUTHOR

      Tom Ramstack 

      3 years ago from Washington, D.C.

      I agree. The only problem is that it creates a gray area about whether it's intentional or accidental discrimination that is difficult to determine with any certainty.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 

      3 years ago from USA

      I agree that the act should be based on intention rather than mishap. I hate to admit it, but sometimes people pull out the race card to be malicious, even when they know the landlord had no intension whatsoever of any racial act.

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