The federal Fair Housing Act is administered by the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (OFHEO) under the direction of the secretary of HUD. Any aggrieved person who believes illegal discrimination has occurred may file a complaint with HUD within one year of the alleged act. HUD may also initiate its own complaint. Complaints may be reported to the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Washington, DC 20410, or to the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity in care of the nearest HUD regional office. Complaints may also be submitted directly to HUD using an online form available on the HUD Web site.

On receiving a discrimination complaint,

  • HUD initiates an investigation.
  • Within 100 days of the filing of the complaint, HUD either determines that reasonable cause exists to bring a charge of illegal discrimination or dismisses the complaint.
  • During this investigation period, HUD can attempt to resolve the dispute informally through conciliation. Conciliation is the resolution of a complaint by obtaining assurance that the person against whom the complaint was filed (the respondent) will remedy any violation that may have occurred.
  • Once a formal charge of discrimination has been filed, a formal hearing is required.
  • Either the complainant or the respondent may force the hearing to district court by means of what is called an election, which must be made within 20 days after charges are issued.
  • If no election is made, the case will be heard before a U.S. administrative law judge (ALP who is an expert in housing discrimination.
  • If either party prefers, then, by election, the case goes to a U.S. district court judge (no fair housing specialization, under the Department of Justice, and a jury trial may be requested).
  • Cases under the ALJs normally proceed much more quickly than if they were heard in district court, and the fair housing expertise may be higher.
  • The judge has the authority to award actual damages to the aggrieved person or persons and, if it is believed the public interest will be served, to impose monetary penalties. The penalties range from up to $16,000 for a first offense to $65,000 for a third violation within seven years.
  • An ALJ also has the authority to issue an injunction to order the offender to either take action (such as rent an apartment to the complaining party) or refrain from an action (such as continuing to rent to only one group).
  • The parties may elect civil action in federal court at any time within two years of the discriminatory act. For cases heard in federal court, unlimited punitive damages can be awarded in addition to actual damages. The court also can issue injunctions. Errors and omissions insurance carried by licensees may not cover violations of the fair housing laws.
  • Whenever the attorney general has reasonable cause to believe that any person or group is engaged in a pattern or practice of resistance to the full enjoyment of any of the rights granted by the federal fair housing laws, he may file a civil action in any federal district court. The district court may award actual and punitive damages along with attorney’s fees and costs.

Complaints brought under the Civil Rights Act of 1866 are taken directly to federal courts. The only time limit for action is a state’s statute of limitations for torts.

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