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Supreme Court's Fair Housing Act Ruling Broadens Liability for Realtors

Updated on July 2, 2015
Tom Ramstack profile image

Tom Ramstack is a Washington, D.C. lawyer, journalist, author, foreign language translator and owner of The Legal Forum.

Court Warns Against Disparate Impact Discrimination

The Supreme Court’s June 2015 ruling that broadens the right to sue under the Fair Housing Act represents an increased threat of lawsuits and regulatory fines for realtors.

The Supreme Court said housing discrimination does not need to be intentional to be illegal. Even unintended housing discrimination that affects minorities more than others can create a right of legal action, according to a report by The Legal Forum (

The court acknowledges the Fair Housing Act's continuing role in moving the nation toward a more integrated society, the Supreme Court’s majority decision said.

The case, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, involved federal low-income housing vouchers.

Dallas officials decided to make the vouchers available in poor, minority neighborhoods but not in wealthier suburbs that are mostly white.

Dallas officials intended the vouchers to help low-income persons acquire housing. However, an unintended result was that minority recipients of the vouchers were compelled to remain only in poor neighborhoods that consisted primarily of other minorities.

Civil right activists said the disparate impact of the voucher program was an illegal violation of the Fair Housing Act. The Act forbids discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability or family status.

The Supreme Court said the case serves as an example for landlords, mortgage lenders, builders and others in the real estate industry whose business practices create a disparate impact on disadvantaged persons.

The court’s ruling said that recognition of disparate-impact claims is consistent with the FHA's central purpose of ending housing discrimination. These unlawful practices include zoning laws and other housing restrictions that function unfairly to exclude minorities from certain neighborhoods without any sufficient justification.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that while our nation has made tremendous progress since the Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968, disparate impact claims remain an all-too-necessary mechanism for rooting out discrimination in housing and lending.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that violations of the Fair Housing Act can occur even when they're unintentional.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that violations of the Fair Housing Act can occur even when they're unintentional.

Can discrimination be unintentional?

Can violations of Fair Housing Act anti-discrimation rules be unintentional?

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    • Tom Ramstack profile image

      Tom Ramstack 2 years ago from Washington, D.C.

      I agree. Some people do bad things without realizing it until someone else points it out to them.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      The effect of the Court's ruling is to demand that realtors and others who are in a position to affect the availability of housing to disadvantaged people must proactively consider whether their actions might have unintended negative impacts. I think that's a good thing.