You are viewing a read-only archive of the Blogs.Harvard network. Learn more.


Municipal attempt to induce residents to move because of race violates Fair Housing Act even if they do not move

November 8th, 2013 by Joseph William Singer

The Sixth Circuit has held that §3617 of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. §3601 et seq., prohibits conduct intended to encourage residents to move even if they are not denied housing or induced to move. Hidden Village, LLC v. City of Lakewood, 2013 WL 5811642 (6th Cir. 2013). The basic provisions of the FHA (embodied in §3604) prohibit denying housing for discriminatory reasons, providing unequal and discriminatory terms and conditions for housing, and expressing an invidious preference for buyers or renters of a particular race, sex, etc. Section 3617 prohibits coercion, intimidation, threats, or any interference with any person’s right to exercise the fair housing rights protected by 3604. Federal courts have been confused and divided over whether §3617 provides a remedy when there is no underlying §3604 violation.

In Hidden Village, municipal officials were unhappy with a religious youth service that helps young people released from foster care or juvenile detention enter society. It planned to house its clients in apartments leased from a private landlord. Following a zoning controversy over whether the use was a lawful “residential” use or a prohibited “institutional” use, municipal officials engaged in a campaign to make life difficult for the charity’s beneficiaries by issuing numerous citations for minor offenses and conducting a warrantless search of the housing premises.

The Sixth Circuit acknowledged that there had been uncertainty about the meaning of §3617 but held that it prohibits conduct intended to interfere with someone’s ability to obtain or enjoy housing whether or not there is an independent violation of one of the terms of §3604. The Court explained:

“[D]efendants argue that they may not be charged with violating § 3617 unless they separately violated at least one of the provisions in §§ 3603–3606. We disagree. Section 3617 nowhere says that it comes into play only when a violation of one of these other sections has also occurred. An example confirms the freestanding nature of some § 3617 claims. Suppose Alice says to Bob, a prospective home buyer, “If a seller ever discriminates against you because of your race, sue him!” Eve, a racist eavesdropper, becomes enraged upon hearing this conversation and threatens to assault Alice. At this point, Eve has violated § 3617, regardless of whether she discriminated against Bob or otherwise violated the fair housing rights secured by §§ 3603–3606. Eve has “threaten[ed] … [a] person,” namely Alice. And this threat was “on account of [Alice’s] having aided or encouraged any other person in the exercise or enjoyment of [a fair housing right].” Eve threatened Alice because Alice had encouraged Bob to protect himself against discrimination relating to housing. The statute requires no more.”

Posted in Antidiscrimination law, Consumer protection, Fair Housing Act | Comments Off on Municipal attempt to induce residents to move because of race violates Fair Housing Act even if they do not move

Comments are closed.