Posts tagged as:

housing discrimination

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a Fremont, Calif. apartment building’s rule against children’s playing in grassy common areas amounted to “family status” discrimination. Resulting settlement: $80,000. [DoJ complaint, press release]

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  • Mayor de Blasio settles firefighter bias suit on terms sympathetic to plaintiffs [City Journal: Dennis Saffran and Seth Barron]
  • One way to dodge some Culture War fights: roll meaning of “public accommodation” back to travel, lodgings, places of public amusement, etc. [Andrew Kloster, Heritage] As original/creative expression goes, florists and cake-bakers sometimes outdo NYT’s Greenhouse [Ann Althouse] From Dixie Chicks to Hobby Lobby, few escape hypocrisy when commerce collides with convictions [Barton Hinkle]
  • Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights investigating Florida’s popular Bright Futures college scholarship program [Orlando Sentinel]
  • Do EEOC mediators overstate risk of legal action to extract big settlements from employers? [Bloomberg BNA, Merrily Archer on survey] New Colorado expansion of employment liability bad news for large and small employers alike [Archer]
  • “Religious exemptions — a guide for the confused” [Eugene Volokh]
  • Washington Post columnist repeats myth that Lilly Ledbetter “did not know she was being paid less than male counterparts” until after statute of limitations had run; Hans Bader corrects [letter to editor]
  • If helping out local people was one reason your town decided to back public housing, you might have been played for suckers [AP on DoJ suit against Long Island town over local preference]

Unfair to the hearing?

by Walter Olson on November 4, 2013

Federal officials at HUD are making life difficult for a popular Arizona housing complex that specializes in serving hearing-impaired residents because they say it is failing to attract and serve non-hearing-impaired persons. [Arizona Republic]

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Douglas Hsiao in the Washington Post on the legal hazards of renting out an apartment under the laws of Washington, D.C., which make it suspect for a landlord to put ceilings on the number of tenants (that might constitute “family discrimination”) or inquire into whether an applicant is earning money at a legal trade (“source of income” discrimination):

And finally, this: I asked my property manager whether we could meet with potential tenants and interview them. She told me that, as a general rule, she does not like to meet any potential tenants. Why? Because if you never meet them, you cannot be accused of discriminating against them. It would be funny if it were not so Kafkaesque.

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July 14 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 14, 2012

  • Does new Obama directive gut 1996 welfare reform law? [Mickey Kaus ("in 2008, Barack Obama didn’t dare suggest that he wanted to do what he has done today"), Bader]
  • Ringling Bros. v. animal rights activists: court throws out champerty claim, allows racketeering claim to proceed [BLT]
  • Iqbal, Twombly, and Lance Armstrong [DeadSpin, Howard Wasserman/Prawfs and more]
  • Abuse claims: “Retain the statute of limitations” [New Jersey Law Journal editorial] Insurance costs squeeze NYC social services working with kids, elderly [NYDN]
  • Court upholds sanctions vs. “staggering chutzpah” copyright lawyer Evan Stone [Paul Alan Levy, Eugene Volokh, earlier here and here]
  • Court says board members of NYC apartment co-ops can be sued personally over alleged bias [Reuters]
  • “FASB retreats from disastrous litigation disclosure requirement proposal” [Alison Frankel, Reuters via PoL, earlier]

The Ninth Circuit properly vindicates the constitutional principle of freedom of association in a clash with housing discrimination law. [Rigel Oliveri, Washington Post]

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February 22 roundup

by Walter Olson on February 22, 2012

  • Florida courts allow probe of finances of MDs who treat many injury plaintiffs [Dolman Law Group; Crable v. State Farm]
  • Booster clubs: “Does Title IX Reach Voluntary Donations?” [Joshua Thompson, PLF, earlier here, here]
  • Freedom to Discriminate in Choice of Roommates: 9th Circuit case of Fair Housing Council v. Roommate.com [Eugene Volokh; related from David Bernstein h/t commenter wfjag]
  • PI firm employee “disliked sending clients to [chiropractors] because insurers were more reluctant to settle those claims” [ABA Journal]
  • “Bill introduced to de-criminalize the Lacey Act” [Paul Enzinna, PoL; earlier on Gibson Guitar and wood imports here, here] More: Reason.tv on the raids [Balko]
  • “Australia: A Cautionary Tale of Litigation Financing?” [WSJ Law Blog]
  • Constitutional law book review: Jay Wexler, “The Odd Clauses” [Greenfield, Lowering the Bar]

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The U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles appears to be proceeding on the theory that city and redevelopment officers committed potential “fraud” by accepting federal money for housing projects but omitting to run the projects in compliance with laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requiring that accommodations be offered for disabled patrons. At Cato at Liberty, I wonder whether we’re in for another venture into criminalization of an area best left to civil law.

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing has agreed to stop investigating citizens on the theory that their political speech in and of itself constitutes a potential violation of housing discrimination laws. I’ve got more on the case at Cato at Liberty. Related earlier here and here.

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Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley nails twenty property owners and real estate agents over “no kids”, “no Section 8″ language in Craigslist ads [Legal NewsLine]

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Dan Bader came to be “embroiled in a messy dispute with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing and the Fair Housing Council of Orange County” when he used Craigslist to advertise a rental unit in his Newport Beach home as “Well suited for professional adults” and “Perfect for 1 or 2 professionals.” As the Orange County Register relates, it never resulted in an actual courtroom loss; the process was the punishment. Bader has a website on the experience: StateGoneCrazy.com (more on Craigslist and the wording of housing ads here, here, etc.).

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Fat is the New Black

by SSFC on December 28, 2008

Progressive members of the City Council of Binghamton New York have expanded the boundaries of civil rights in their fair city to include protection for citizens on the basis of sexual orientation, nothing shocking in a university town.  What is surprising is that the law also protects Binghamton citizens from discrimination in employment, housing, education, and public accommodation on the basis of height and weight.  Presumably in the future, Binghamton bean poles will have to yield to their shorter peers for slots on basketball teams, and the horizontally expansive will be able to demand wider doors and sturdier seats in restaurants and shops.

According to the law’s chief proponent, Binghamton Council member Sean Massey, it is a “sad fact” that a law protecting the undertall or the overweight is necessary, and even if it isn’t, “It’s simply the right thing to do. … It is the human thing to do.”

While it’s not at all clear to me, from a simple google search, that Binghamton was experiencing a tide of discrimination against the short, the tall, the fat, or the cadaverous before the passage of this law, it’s also unclear how this law will in fact promote its author’s vision of Harrison Bergeronlike equality of outcome for people of nonstandard body configuration.  Will morbidly obese firemen be able to sue the city for discrimination if they are not provided assistance in climbing ladders and carrying victims?  Will students whose body mass makes them unappealing by conventional standards of good looks now demand appointment as homecoming kings and queens on the ground that they are denied a fair shot in student elections?  And how, exactly, will the city determine that someone was denied housing on the basis of height or weight?  While one assumes that signs reading “Fat people need not apply” are being removed from apartments all over Binghamton, apart from that what does this accomplish, other than making the Binghamton City Council feel good?  Gannett: “Council Passes Rights Law”, Weekly Standard: “The Politics of Fat”, thanks to dispatches from TJICistan for the pointer.

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Craigslist housing ads

by Walter Olson on March 18, 2008

In the Seventh Circuit, at least, discriminatory ads posted by users won’t result in liability for Craigslist (Volokh/Coleman; earlier).

Stan Liebowitz writes in the New York Post:

Perhaps the greatest scandal of the mortgage crisis is that it is a direct result of an intentional loosening of underwriting standards – done in the name of ending discrimination, despite warnings that it could lead to wide-scale defaults. …

In an earlier newspaper story extolling the virtues of relaxed underwriting standards, Countrywide’s chief executive bragged that, to approve minority applications that would otherwise be rejected “lenders have had to stretch the rules a bit.” He’s not bragging now.

I’m not sure I entirely agree, but it’s an element we should be considering as we look at the new complaints of “racial discrimination” through excessive sub-prime loans.

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Cross-posted from Point of Law.

Says the NAACP complaint: “In 2004, African-American homeowners who received subprime mortgage loans from Defendants were over 30% more likely to be issued a higher-rate loan than Caucasian borrowers with the same qualifications.” (¶ 1.) Thus, it concludes, the disparity “result[s] from a systematic and predatory targeting of African-Americans.” (¶ 6.)

Similarly, Baltimore’s suit argues that Wells Fargo is more likely to foreclose in African-American neighborhoods—and that suit does not even attempt to adjust for similar qualifications or finances, just alleging racial disparity.

Of course, there is a difference between being targeted for a subprime mortgage loan and accepting a subprime mortgage loan. And I don’t believe that African-American homeowners were targeted for subprime mortgage loans because they were African-American. They were targeted because they were homeowners.

Between 2001 and 2005, I was a law-firm associate, high-income, making multiples of what I make today at a thinktank. And, like I am today, I was also white. And the minute my adjustable-rate mortgage was registered in the title books in 2001, I got several solicitations a week in the mail from fly-by-night mortgage brokers offering to refinance my mortgage with ludicrous financial products. (And when I made the mistake of investigating on-line options for switching to a fixed-rate mortgage in 2004, I also got several e-mails a day and phone-calls a month on the same basis to the point that I switched e-mail providers.)

Somehow, I resisted refinancing with a mortgage that was not favorable to me in the long run—I took a 5.25% fixed-rate instead. But I sure was targeted with subprime opportunities, especially as the real-estate prices in my neighborhood skyrocketed about 10% a year. And if, with my skin-color, income, education-level, and impeccable credit-score, I was targeted, so was every homeowner and their grandmother.

To the extent a statistical study says minorities were, ceteris paribus, more likely to receive unfavorable mortgages than whites, the study reflects a specification error, perhaps in failing to account for different levels of consumer education. Another possibility: there is a lot of state-by-state regulation of the mortgage industry. Are subprime mortgages more likely in states with high minority populations, for example? Are subprime mortgage brokers more likely to be aggressive in urban areas in states on the coasts where real estate prices were increasing faster than average, and those states correspond to states with high minority populations?

Note that the CRL study that has been driving the debate and highlighted in the NAACP suit finds that for many types of loans, whites were “disadvantaged” relative to Hispanics, which would seem to count against a racial explanation (unless one believes that bankers hold a racial animus against whites and towards Hispanics) and more towards a geographic explanation.

Note also the irony that these same defendants were accused of failing to offer loans to African-Americans just a few years ago. (See also Apr. 1.)

Finally, note that the NAACP complaint is legally frivolous in at least one respect because of the lack of standing in a federal court. Domino’s Pizza, Inc. v. McDonald, 546 U.S. 470 (2006) (no § 1981 standing for third parties). (Baltimore brings no § 1981 claim.) Fair Housing Act standing is questionable, too, given the lack of allegation of injury to NAACP in particular, though that could be fairly easily rectified by an amended complaint, especially in the Ninth Circuit. Cf. Spann v. Colonial Vill., Inc., 899 F.2d 24 (D.C. Cir. 1990) (“[a]n organization cannot, of course, manufacture the injury necessary to maintain a suit from its expenditure of resources on that very suit”) (R. Bader Ginsburg, J.); Fair Housing of Marin v. Combs, 285 F.3d 899, 902 (9th Cir. 2002). N.B. that there is an amended version of the NAACP complaint that may already fix these issues. NAACP v. Ameriquest Mortgage Co., No. 8:07-cv-00794-AG-AN (C.D. Cal.). For some reason, this is not available on PACER, so I haven’t seen it.

Related: Jan. 8 (Krauss on Baltimore suit); Apr. 25 (me on third-party liability for subprime lending).

(Disclosure: I own less than $15,000 in stock in Citigroup, one of the defendants in the case.)

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They’re doing it again in California: “State and federal authorities have opened an investigation into a Norco housewife, alleging that her vitriolic protests against a high-risk group home in her neighborhood may constitute housing discrimination.” Federal officials asked state fair housing regulators to investigate Julie Waltz, 61, who had protested plans to open a group house next to her home for developmentally disabled residents; among those eligible to reside there under state law would be persons deemed not competent to stand trial on sex crime charges. In 2000, the Ninth Circuit ruled that three Berkeley, Calif. neighbors’ rights had been violated by an “extraordinarily intrusive and chilling” investigation of whether their protests had been contrary to housing discrimination law. In that episode, as in the latest one, housing advocates had set the investigation in motion by filing complaints against the neighbors.

A spokesman for the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development acknowledged that in order to recommend the inquiry, it had to push aside internal guidelines that prohibit such an investigation because it infringes on the 1st Amendment.

The rules require that complaints of housing discrimination be investigated only in cases in which the alleged victim’s safety has been threatened.

No such allegation has been made against Waltz, but HUD opened an investigation into her and state investigators ordered her to respond to the complaint in detail because a preliminary review showed that someone else in the neighborhood may have made a violent threat, said HUD spokesman Larry Bush.

(Garrett Therolf, “Protester of group home is targeted”, Los Angeles Times, Mar. 20).

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Google, Amazon, AOL and Yahoo are all defending Craigslist in the suit demanding that it censor its housing ads so as to prevent users from requesting “gay Latino sought for roomshare” and the like (Lynne Marek, “Online Peers Stand Up for Craigslist in Lawsuit”, National Law Journal, Jun. 28). Earlier coverage: Aug. 10, 2005; Feb. 9, Feb. 20, Mar. 6, 2006. Craigslist’s defense, by CEO Jim Buckmaster, is here.

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The federal taxpayer, by way of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, funnels substantial sums to private “fair housing” advocacy groups for purposes of suing landlords, newspapers, and other likely suspects over alleged housing discrimination; raising consciousness among potential claimants and others; and generally promoting expansive readings of housing-bias law. For example, in this listing of $20 million worth of fiscal 2002 grants, HUD boasts of bestowing $242,339 on the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. for something called its Private Enforcement Initiative (PEI), described as follows:

While addressing the needs of minorities in the metropolitan Chicago area, the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights will increase awareness of fair housing rights; empower victims to report incidents of discrimination; develop credible, legitimate evidence to support discrimination complaints; increase the number of complaints referred to HUD for enforcement; and provide relief to discrimination victims. Utilizing access to pro bono attorneys from Chicago’s most prominent law firms, as well as their resources, the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee will receive, document, and investigate individual complaints of discrimination.

If the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee sounds vaguely familiar, it’s probably because it’s the group that last month filed a widely criticized lawsuit against Craigslist (Feb. 9, Feb. 20) seeking to force the online service to pre-censor users’ postings of roommate and other housing classifieds (rather than just pull them off after complaints, as now).

Even if the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee suit fails in court — as is widely expected — the controversy is likely to continue. In yesterday’s New York Times, Adam Liptak says the activists are likely to push for federal legislation stripping website operators of their current protection against being held liable for users’ postings. (“The Ads Discriminate, but Does the Web?”, Mar. 5). Don’t assume that “fair housing” advocates are powerless on Capitol Hill these days, either: at one set of hearings last week, all the witnesses called (including this one (PDF), quoted in the Times piece) were there to speak up for expansive enforcement of the law, with nary a dissenting word about any possible competing values at stake. More: Maggie’s Farm.