April is Fair Housing Month!
April 11 marks the 48th anniversary of the 1968 Fair Housing Act. The history of the Fair Housing Act begins with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. There were four long and difficult years after the passing of the Civil Rights Act that lead to the eventual enactment of the Fair Housing Act, otherwise referred to as the Civil Rights Act of 1968. From 1966-1967, Congress regularly considered the fair housing bill, but failed to garner a strong enough majority for its passage. However, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson utilized this national tragedy to urge for the bill's speedy Congressional approval. Since the 1966 open housing marches in Chicago, Dr. King's name had been closely associated with the fair housing legislation. President Johnson viewed the Act as a fitting memorial to the man's life work, and wished to have the Act passed prior to Dr. King's funeral in Atlanta.
Protecting a Buyer or Renter From Discrimination
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 expanded on previous acts in the Civil Rights Act and prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, sex, (and as amended) disability or familial status. This period in history in America was not only reeling from civil rights activism but also a growing casualty list from Vietnam. Many of the fallen heroes of the war were young, poor African-American and Hispanic infantrymen. However, the families of these brave men who had served their country were not afforded equal rights to white Americans and could not purchase or rent homes in certain residential developments on account of their race or national origin. Specialized organizations lobbied hard for the Senate to pass the Fair Housing Act and remedy this inequity.
Change Is Something You Can Count On
The Fair Housing Act continues to see updates in rules as society evolves. Most recently, only last year, the Obama administration introduced a new rule aimed at promoting fair housing. The new HUD rule follows a Supreme Court decision hailed by civil rights advocates, that re-affirmed that the Fair Housing Act allows not only claims for intentional discrimination but also claims that cover practices that have a discriminatory effect, even if they were not motivated by an intent to discriminate. Whether or not the Fair Housing Act specifically prohibits discrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity is currently being debated by the higher courts. Regardless, local and state laws have been passed in many states, including Idaho, that do specifically prohibit discrimination on this basis.
What’s the Price of Ignorance?
Rules covered by the Fair Housing Act are numerous, can be complicated, and are constantly being amended or added. Annual workshops are a recommended staff requirement for professional property management companies to insure against unintentional violations. Penalties for Fair Housing violations can be costly. Civil penalties may be levied up to $16,000 for a first violation and $65,000 for future violations. In cases where the Justice Department is involved civil penalties can be even more and go up to $100,000. Add to that potential punitive damages awarded by federal courts and Attorney’s fees and your fine could be excessively hefty.
It’s fairly safe to say that almost all self-managed landlords unintentionally violate some rule within the Fair Housing Act at some time or another. All it takes is for one informed tenant to file suit and that landlord will be wishing he had hired a professional property management company to market and lease his property for him.
The Fair Housing Act had a legislative precursor… signed into law less than one year after Abraham Lincoln’s death. Yes, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 prohibited all racial discrimination in the sale or rental of property. But because it did not contain any federal penalties for violators, more specific legislation was necessary during the civil rights era to actually accomplish many of the goals set out by this initial act.