Here is another example of a lawsuit that was recently filed by the United States Department of Justice ("DOJ") to enforce the Fair Housing Act. I try to post summaries of these types of cases in order to provide timely updates to real estate professionals about the "dos and don'ts" under the Fair Housing Act, since fair housing is such an important issue.
Yesterday afternoon (Monday, February 23, 2009), the DOJ filed a lawsuit against the Wayne County Housing Authority (“WCHA”) (located in Fairfield, Illinois), as well as against Jill Masterson and Danna Sutton, WCHA’s executive director and assistant director, respectively, alleging that they violated the Fair Housing Act when they tried to discourage a white couple from renting their property in Fairfield to an African-American woman.
The DOJ’s complaint alleges that the defendants discriminated against a white couple who were planning to rent a house to an African-American woman through the Housing Choice Voucher program (also known as Section 8). The Housing Choice Voucher program provides rental assistance to eligible low-income families, the elderly and persons with disabilities. Wayne County, Illinois, receives federal funding from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) to administer the Housing Choice Voucher program.
The complaint further alleges that the defendants made racially discriminatory statements to the couple and "failed" their property at the mandatory inspection, which required the couple to make certain repairs and be inspected again before they could rent their unit under the Housing Choice Voucher program.
By contrast, the lawsuit alleges that when the WCHA found similar deficiencies at other properties in the Housing Choice Voucher program, its practice had been to "pass" the property and verbally counsel the landlords to make the repairs. The DOJ’s complaint alleges that the defendants took these actions to discourage the couple from renting the property to the African-American woman. The complaint also alleges that the defendants determined that the property would have to be re-inspected because the couple had complained about racially discriminatory comments allegedly made by Ms. Sutton.
The lawsuit originated from a complaint filed with HUD by the couple. After an investigation, HUD found reasonable cause to believe that unlawful discrimination had occurred and referred the matter to the DOJ, who filed the Fair Housing Act lawsuit. The lawsuit filed by the DOJ is an allegation of unlawful conduct, and the allegations must still be proven in court.
The lawsuit seeks monetary damages for the couple and a court order barring future discrimination. This case is currently pending in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois.
As every real estate professional should know, it is illegal to engage in racially discriminatory housing practices. Public housing authorities are no execption to this rule. Remember that the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability.
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