Supreme Court candidate Elena Kagan’s position on housing discrimination is unclear to some; however, a closer look into her past opinions may provide some insight. In a case brought by tenants in Chico, California, Kagan stood in clear support of the landlord who refused to rent to a couple because they were unmarried and because it went against the landlord’s beliefs. The Supreme Court decided in favor of the tenants, but Kagan recommended that the Clinton Administration urge the Court to decide in favor of the landlord. Although Kagan has attempted to distance herself from such decisions, it begs the question whether or not this ideological position may resurface. Kagan’s past position in favor of religious freedom over the rights of tenants, who stand to suffer housing discrimination due to such individuals “beliefs”, is worrisome. This position leaves a dangerous opportunity for other types of discrimination such as race, sexual orientation, etc., which according to the same logic, could be considered permissible for landlords.
Increase in enforcement efforts felt nationwide with new HUD policy:
A new policy called the Recovery Act was enacted shortly after President Obama took office which allocated almost $14 billion to HUD to enforce discrimination cases and demonstrates a new effort by the Department of Justice to increase its enforcement of fair housing practices. According to HUD spokesperson, in the past year, 44% of housing discrimination complaints involved issues around disability, with race discrimination cases at 33% of the total. The Milwaukee Fair Housing Council reports that disability cases represent roughly 50% of cases brought under the Fair Housing Act.
HUD reinforces support of ADA claims under FHA:
The Department of Justice has brought a case on behalf of a 52 year old disabled man who was a resident of an apartment complex where he was not given accomodations for his disability. The tenant was told not to park in a space closer to his door and when he requested a closer parking space it was denied. Soon after the tenant requested this closer parking space he slipped on ice while walking across the lot form the space where he was told to park and injured himself. After repeated requests for accommodation after his injury and being denied, the tenant eventually moved from the residence to prevent any further injury. As a result of the property manager’s failure to accommodate the tenant, which according to a HUD spokesperson is a required for FHA compliance when asked by a disabled tenantnot only suffered injury but also the inconvenience of relocating. The defendant denies the allegations and claims that the facts were inaccurate and they do not discriminate against disabled tenants. However if the property owner is found to have engaged in discrimination, up $16,000 in penalties may be imposed. http://www.jsonline.com/news/wisconsin/98984059.html
HUD will launch mortgage discrimination Investigations:
HUD will launch an Investigation to determine if lenders have violated the Fair Housing Act in their lending practices. The investigation is in response to a New York Times article titled "Seeking a Mortgage? Don’t Get Pregnant", which claimed that mortgage companies were guilty of denying pregnant women mortgages due to their temporary disability status (or leave of absence taken by parents to care for a newborn child) which results in a reduction in income. The crackdown by mortgage companies on home loans came with the stricter regulation of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. The lenders now take a harder and longer look at the qualifications of prospective borrowers which includes verifying income right before closing. Both Freddie and Fannie require enough income to cover loan, however the borrower must also show this “guaranteed income” will continue for three years following the application, which may not be apparent in the income of the temporarily unemployed (due to leave of absence) applicant. In some cases, lenders using a new mother’s disability payments as qualifying income will not grant the loans, even if she returns to work. In one case, a mother was denied a mortgage once the lender discovered she was on maternity leave assuming that her income was coming from disability payments. Once the applicant provided proof via the employer that her income remained unchanged during her leave and that she was still earning her full salary,she was able to qualify. This sort of knee-jerk reaction to a non-active employee receiving (partial or full) income,can appear to be indicative of discriminatory practices. In defense of the mortgage lenders, a representative of Mortgage Center states that the extra care is just “prudent underwriting”. The brokerage firm representative explains that if Fannie or Freddie, the purchasers of most mortgages, find that a borrower does not meet the requirements, they can require the lender to buy the loan back. Apparently the lenders caution is warranted as the number of repurchases by lenders has increased in recent years.
HUD decision sends retaliation warning to landlords:
An Iowa landlord was ordered to pay $52,150 to a single mother of three for retaliating against her for filing a housing discrimination complaint. The mother filed a complaint after being denied an apartment; she alleged that she was unjustly charged a higher security deposit because of her sex. HUD did not find evidence of sex discrimination, but did find that the landlord retaliated against her for filing a complaint. As result the administrative judge found in favor of the tenant awarding her $20,150 in damages and a civil penalty for $32,000. HUD representatives stated that retaliation against a tenant for exercising their rights will not be tolerated.
The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the owner and former manager of a 268-unit apartment building in Renton, Washington for violating the Fair Housing Act by discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin and familial status. The complaint stated that the management company steered Indian, African Americans, and Hispanics and families with children from the apartment complex. Employees of the apartment complex were the first to complain to the Kings County Office of Civil Rights, who contacted the local Fair Housing Council. The council conducted a study to determine if there was any indication of discriminatory practices and referred it to HUD. HUD found reasonable cause and the defendants chose to have the case heard before the federal court rather than in an administrative court. U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington Jenny A. Durkan, stated "few things are more fundamental to success and happiness than having a safe place to live. Fair and equal access to housing is a cornerstone of our society." The complaint is based on the management company’s unlawful conduct and seeks monetary damages for harm suffered by the “defendant’s actions, civil penalties and a court order barring future discrimination. http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2010/July/10-crt-826.html
Fair Housing Report released at conference in New Orleans:
The Department of Housing and Urban Development releases first annual report of the state of fair housing which provides the progress being made in enforcing the Fair Housing Act and expresses the current administration’s commitment to ending housing discrimination. The report ,prepared in accordance with Sections 808(e)(2) and (6) of the Fair Housing Act and Section 561(j) of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1987, was released during HUD’s National Fair Housing Policy Conference in New Orleans July 19-23. According to the report the most prevalent type of housing discrimination continues to be complaints dealing with disability issues, making up 44% of complaints with 31% race and 20% familial status. The report also includes recent changes in policy, and provides cases that were resolved through the HUD process. Recent cases can be found in the report available at http://www.hud.gov/content/releases/fy2009annual-rpt.pdf.