Housing Discrimination Must Be Intentional to Sue Property Owners
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).