The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and subsequent legislation addresses strong legislative policy against discrimination. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination because of a person’s race, color, religion, or national origin in certain places of public accommodation, such as hotels, restaurants, and places of entertainment. It also prohibits many other types of discrimination including:
• Rights of Institutionalized Persons
• Americans with Disabilities
The Department of Justice governs the Fair Housing Act. This Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, or disability by housing providers, such as landlords and real estate companies. It also prohibits discrimination from other entities, such as municipalities, banks or other lending institutions, and homeowners insurance companies. In addition, some state and local laws prohibit discrimination based on a person’s marital status, age, or sexual orientation.
The Fair Housing Acts prohibit landlords from taking any of the following actions based on race, religion, or any other protected category:
• Falsely denying that a rental unit is available to some applicants
• Advertising that indicates a preference based on group characteristic, such as skin color
• Setting more restrictive standards, such as higher income, for certain tenants
• Refusing to reasonably accommodate the needs of disabled tenants, such as allowing a guide dog, hearing dog, or other service animal
• etting different terms for some tenants, such as adopting an inconsistent policy of responding to late rent payments
• Terminating a tenancy for a discriminatory reason
In 2000, HUD conducted a Housing Discrimination Study 2000 (HDS 2000). The study showed the extent of housing discrimination in the United States against persons because of their race or color. It was the third nationwide effort sponsored by HUD to measure the amount of discrimination faced by minority home seekers. Previous studies were conducted in 1977 and 1989. The report noted national estimates of discrimination faced by African Americans and Hispanics in 2000/2001 as they searched for housing in the sales and rental markets. These numbers were significant.
Housing discrimination is not always based upon the traditional discriminatory guidelines. Single parents, people with disabilities and families with children also face barriers to their fair housing rights. The issues of housing discrimination are far and wide and include:
• Families with children
• No Pets – Including Guide Dogs
• Linguistic Profiling
• Interracial Discrimination
Higher Rates of Evictions of Minorities
Under the Fair Housing Act, the Department of Justice may pursue a lawsuit where it has reason to believe that a person or entity is engaged in a “pattern or practice” of discrimination or where a denial of rights to a group of persons raises an issue of general public importance. Through these individual lawsuits, the money damages, both actual and punitive damages, for those individuals harmed by a defendant’s discriminatory actions can be collected. The defendant may also be required to pay money penalties to the government. If an individual has information that suggests a pattern or practice of discrimination in housing, a qualified attorney can assist with the process of working with the government.
If sexual orientation is the only basis of discrimination the evaluation of these complaints is handled on a case-by-case basis to determine whether any other form of discrimination is present (such as sex or disability, for example). Individual state and local laws prohibit discrimination in housing based on sexual orientation in some locations.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is the government entity that investigates individual cases of discrimination in housing. If HUD determines that reasonable cause exists to believe that a discriminatory housing practice has occurred, then either the complainant or the respondent (the person against whom the complaint was filed) may elect to have the case heard in federal court. In addition, if there is force or a threat of force to deny or interfere with fair housing rights, the Department of Justice may begin criminal proceedings against the defendant.
Individuals who believe that they have been victims of an illegal housing practice may file their own lawsuit in federal or state court. It must be filed with HUD within two years of the incident that is believed to be housing discrimination. If it is filed directly with a governmental agency it must be filed within one year from the date of the incident.