What you should know about the U.S. Supreme Court’s fair-housing decision
07/02/2015 | Author: Editorial Staff
In an opinion issued on June 25, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of the legal theory known as disparate impact under the federal Fair Housing Act, but with certain limits. This ruling means individuals may be able to establish a violation of the Fair Housing Act by proving a certain practice has a discriminatory effect, regardless of whether there was intent to discriminate.
The decision is a result of a case brought against the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) by the Inclusive Communities Project, a Texas nonprofit group that alleged the TDHCA had violated the Fair Housing Act through “continued segregated housing patterns by allocating too many tax credits to housing in predominately black inner-city areas and too few in predominately white suburban neighborhoods.”
Although the Supreme Court decided the Fair Housing Act does allow disparate-impact claims, it also imposed significant limitations when making such a claim. For instance, the Court made clear that disparate-impact claims cannot be based solely on statistical differences. A plaintiff, like a tenant, would have to show that a defendant’s policy actually caused that discriminatory effect. And defendants cannot be liable under a disparate-impact theory if they can show the particular policy is necessary to achieve a valid, legitimate interest, and a plaintiff cannot prove there is an actual available alternative that has less disparate impact and still serves that interest.
What you should do
Remember, be uniform and consistent in your treatment of clients or customers—from sellers or buyers to tenants or rental applicants—as well as in your policies and procedures. Be sure to maintain documents, like work files, for the required period of time. For instance, a leasing agent may want to document the legitimate reasons a particular applicant was rejected as a tenant. This and other good practices may prove handy if a Fair Housing Act claim is ever brought against you.
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