Published on:

Vista: Non-Owner Can Be Liable Under FHA

Vista has some properties which fall into this category. This is not a case from Vista or from the North County Court House. Our law firm of Law Office of Scott C. Soady, A Professional Corporation, LLP has been in business over a decade and would be pleased to offer you a complimentary and confidential consultation either over the phone or by e mail or in person.

Among the kinds of conduct prohibited by the federal Fair Housing Act is the making of any statement with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates a preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin. The most common violators of this law are the actual owners of dwellings or individuals acting as agents for owners. A federal appellate court, however, reinstated a lawsuit brought by the United States against an individual who had spoken neither as an owner nor as an agent for an owner.

The defendant worked as a housing information vendor, compiling information from classifieds and providing assistance to prospective tenants looking for rooms to rent. In the episode that got the attention of the authorities, a deaf man used a relay services operator to call the defendant for assistance. The defendant flatly told the caller that he did not provide assistance to disabled people. When the caller persisted, the defendant responded with profanity and hung up. Similar inquiries from “testers” were met with essentially the same response. In fact, the jury heard “a virtual tsunami of evidence” that the defendant routinely treated disabled people differently from those not disabled, often using profanity to underscore the point.

The court rejected the reasoning that applying the prohibition on discriminatory statements only to owners or their agents would be in keeping with the purposes of the statute. On the contrary, the statute was meant to protect against the “psychic injury” done by discriminatory statements made in connection with the broader housing market, not just statements that directly affect a housing transaction. The limitation argued for by the defendant is not in the statute itself, which broadly refers to “any” discriminatory statement.

As for a First Amendment argument put forward by the defendant, it may be available for some forms of speech, such as a private individual’s vocal opposition to having children living on his block. The defendant’s speech, however, was commercial in nature, giving it less protection from government regulation.

Contact Information