Fair Housing Education
Everyone in the United States has fair housing rights. In addition, housing providers—from architects and builders, to property owners and managers, to property maintenance workers and subcontractors—also have fair housing responsibilities. FHLP starts off with the hope and expectation that when housing providers know what fair housing laws require, they will follow the law. We also believe that when residents understand their fair housing rights, and what to do if those rights are violated, everyone benefits.
It is illegal for a housing provider to discriminate against a housing seeker or in-place resident because they belong to a protected group. Under federal law, these protected groups are: race or color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and handicap (disability). California law covers all of the federally-protected groups, plus others, including marital status, sexual orientation, source of income, age, and arbitrary characteristics.
In order to fulfill our mission of educating the community about fair housing, FHLP speakers are available at no cost to make presentations to housing providers, community service organizations, and residents. FHLP can make presentations and provide fair housing educational materials in English and Spanish (and other languages as needed) throughout Kern County. To request a speaker or fair housing literature, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fair Housing Investigations
If you believe you may have been a victim of illegal housing discrimination, you have the right to file a housing discrimination complaint or lawsuit. You don’t need have proof to file, but you will need proof to prevail. That is where FHLP can help.
“It is illegal to discriminate because of….” In fair housing cases, “because” matters. Housing providers might say you were rejected because of your rental history, credit history, or income. You might think your landlord is slow to make repairs because he is a slumlord, or that your manager gave you a 3-day or 30-day notice because she is fed up with late rent payments or noise complaints. If those are the real reasons, it’s legal. But what if they’re not the real reasons?
In 1960, housing providers advertised that they would not rent to Blacks, Jews, Native Americans, Hispanics, and others. In 1970, it was legal to refuse to sell or rent to a woman. In 1980, it was legal to build multifamily homes that were not wheelchair accessible, to reject applicants with disabilities, and to have adults-only developments. Nowadays, all of these practices are illegal, but they still happen. The problem is that when discrimination occurs, it is often disguised so well that even the victims are sometimes fooled.
If FHLP accepts your case for investigation, we can review documents, interview witnesses, survey residents, and even conduct fair housing tests (like “secret shoppers”) to gather evidence. If the evidence persuades us that you were a victim of illegal housing discrimination, we will explain how you can stand up for your rights. FHLP can even act as your attorney in a HUD or DFEH complaint or a lawsuit in federal or state court.
If you suspect that you were a victim of illegal housing discrimination, submit our Request for Assistance form, and an FHLP advocate will contact you to discuss an initial consultation.
Fair Housing Enforcement
Generally, FHLP provides fair housing enforcement services only when we have conducted an investigation that has revealed evidence of a discriminatory housing practice—or to assist a client with disabilities in requesting a reasonable accommodation or reasonable modification from the client’s housing provider. FHLP can assist our clients with all types of enforcement, subject to restrictions and eligibility requirements established by HUD and the Legal Services Corporation.
Fair housing enforcement can include any activity intended to obtain relief for a victim of housing discrimination or to assure that a housing provider acts in accordance with fair housing laws. Enforcement activities include informal negotiation with a housing providers; formal housing discrimination complaints submitted to the U.S. Department Housing and Urban Development (HUD), U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), or other government agencies with fair housing enforcement responsibilities; and lawsuits filed in federal or state court.
Regardless of the type of enforcement activity, legal remedies available to a victim of housing discrimination include:
- Declaratory relief (a decision that the housing provider violated fair housing laws)
- Affirmative relief (an order to “undo” the effects of discrimination on the victim or to make a change in policies or practices to prevent future discrimination)
- Financial compensation (including emotional distress damages)
- Attorney’s fees and costs
- Punitive damages (when the housing provider’s actions were malicious)
Formal enforcement takes a great deal of time and effort. Investigating and prosecuting a housing discrimination complaint often take a year or two—even though the vast majority of cases are settled before trial. This is not unique to housing discrimination cases. It is true of all civil cases, so fair housing plaintiffs (or complainants) should be aware that filing a housing discrimination complaint or lawsuit is not likely to address immediate housing or financial needs.