Here is another summary of a recent legal case involving a fair housing issue. This case is a little different than the typical fair housing case because it involves the criminal interference with the right to fair housing instead of the usual civil violation. Although this case doesn’t provide much guidance about the "dos and don'ts" under the Fair Housing Act for real estate professionals, I thought it was nevertheless interesting and worth posting.
On Tuesday (October 13, 2009), a Louisiana man plead guilty to firing three shots from a shotgun at the home of three Hispanic men and, after they fled, entering the home and setting a fire that burned it to the ground.
Johnny D. Mathis plead guilty to three criminal counts, including (1) criminal interference with the right to fair housing; (2) use of fire to commit a felony; and (3) use of a firearm during a crime of violence. Each count carries a maximum penalty of ten years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both. Furthermore, the ten year penalties for use of fire to commit a felony and use of a firearm during a crime of violence are mandatory, meaning that Mr. Mathis now faces a maximum sentence of 30 years and a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for January 13, 2010.
Testimony presented at the plea hearing established that on June 15, 2008, Mr. Mathis fired three shots from a shotgun at the home of three Hispanic men who shared the residence in a rural area of western Louisiana. Mr. Mathis’ home was across the street from the victims’ house. After hearing two shots, the victims fled their house. Once outside, the victims watched as Mr. Mathis fired a third shot into the trees and then entered the house, left briefly, and then returned. Minutes later, the house was engulfed in flames as Mr. Mathis exited the house. Subsequent investigation determined that the fire started in the kitchen where the victims had seen Mr. Mathis. Mr. Mathis admitted that his crime was motivated by the victims’ race and national origin and was intended to interfere with their right to live in their home.
Although this matter did not involve a real estate professional or a real estate transaction, it is important for all real estate professionals to remember that the federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability. Real estate agents who violate the Fair Housing Act face only civil (monetary) damages and not prison time. The case against Mr. Mathis was different for (hopefully) obvious reasons.
Source: U.S. Department of Justice press release (portions of press release used with permission)
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