Fair Housing Laws

SUMMARY OF KEY FAIR HOUSING LAWS

CIVIL RIGHTS ACTS OF 1866 and 1870

Passed at the conclusion of the Civil War, both Acts were intended to ensure that "all persons" in the United States shall have the same rights as is enjoyed by "white persons" to the "full and equal benefits of all laws and proceedings", including the rights to "inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold and convey real and personal property." The provisions of the Act were routinely ignored by U.S. Courts until 1968, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the 1866 law prohibits all forms of racial discrimination in the sale or rental of housing. Although the Supreme Court has not ruled that either of the laws specifically applies to discrimination in the financing of housing, a number of lower court decisions have held that the ·1866 law prohibits racial discrimination in mortgage lending transactions. Persons with claims of unlawful discrimination under either of the Acts may file actions; seeking injunctive relief, attorney fees and compensatory and punitive damages.

FAIR HOUSING ACT OF 1988 (Amending the Fair Housing Provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1968)

This Act, originally passed in 1968 within one week of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, and amended in 1974 and again in 1988, includes protection against discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status (one or more persons under-the age of 18 living with a parent, legal guardian or the designee of a parent or legal guardian) and handicap status. The Act prohibits discrimination In most housing related transactions, including transactions related to the financing of residential property. The Act has been broadly interpreted by the Courts to prohibit virtual all forms of differences in treatment based on any of the protected 'characteristics, and has been interpreted to apply to differences in the impact of 'otherwise neutral policies and practices'. Persons with complaints of unlawful discrimination may either seek redress through an administrative process of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and/or through direct action in Federal Court. The U.S. Department of Justice has authority to initiate a civil action on behalf of aggrieved persons who have been referred by HUD or it may bring an action on behalf of the United States where it has reasonable cause to believe that a person or group of persons are engaged· in a pattern and practice of unlawful discrimination. Injunctive relief, attorney fees, civil penalties, compensatory and punitive damages are available under this Act.

EQUAL CREDIT OPPORTUNITY ACT

This Act, originally passed in 1974 and amended in 1976, provides that a creditor shall not refuse to grant credit to a credit worthy applicant on the basis of race, color; religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age provided the applicant has the capacity to enter into a binding contract) or because all or part of the applicant's income is from a public benefit, or because the applicant has attempted, in good faith, to exercise rights provided by the Act or by any state law upon which an exemption has been granted by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Each of the federal financial regulatory agencies have responsibilities related to the administration of this Act and the processing of complaints received under the Act. Specific regulations to carry out the purposes of the Act have been issued by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve Board ("Regulation B"). Persons with complaints may seek redress through the appropriate regulatory agency or by filing a claim in Federal Court.

HOME MORTGAGE DISCLOSURE ACT (HMDA)

This Act, initially adopted in 1975, requires that covered financial institutions maintain records and disclose to the public certain information related to the mortgage lending practices of the institution. Most residential home lenders are required to disclose information related to: the types of loans applied for; the purpose of the loan; the type of property involved; the amount of the loan; the amount of the down payment; the race, national origin, sex, income, marital status and age of the applicant(s); the price and appraised value of the home; the loan to value ratio; the interest rate and terms of the loan; and the final action taken in relation to the loan application. The required information is to be filed with the appropriate regulatory agency and to the general public. The Federal Financial Institutions Council is responsible for nationwide compilation and dissemination of the HMDA data.

COMMUNITY REINVESTMENT ACT OF 1977(CRA)

This Act, as amended, requires regulated financial institutions "to demonstrate that their deposit facilities serve the convenience and needs of the communities in which they are chartered to do business". The Act was adopted in response to widespread allegations of redlining of certain neighborhoods orcommunities by financial institutions. The Act requires the appropriate regulatory agency to assess an institution's record in meeting the credit needs of its community, including the credit needs of, minority, low and moderate income neighborhoods and identifiable minority and women owned businesses. The Act requires the regulatory agencies to establish a CRA rating criteria and report to Congress, on an annual basis, describing actions each agency has taken to implement provisions of the Act.

FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS REFORM, RECOVERY AND ENFORCEMENT ACT (FIRREA)

Enacted by Congress in 1989 in response to threats to the nation's monetary system by the high number of defaults and insolvencies by financial institutions, the FIRREA mainly addresses issues related to sound banking practices. However, the Act also included provisions that require public disclosure of certain, HMDA data, and public, disclosure or the CRA ratings given to financial institutions by the various regulatory agencies. The Act further requires that each of the 12 district Federal Horne Loan Banks establish a program to provide funding for community oriented mortgage lending programs by member banks.

MICHIGAN ELLIOTT-LARSEN CIVIL RIGHTS ACT and MICHIGAN HANDICAPPERS' CIVIL RIGHTS ACT

These Acts mirror the protection of the Federal Fair Housing Act of 1988, with the major addition of providing protection not only against discrimination in "housing" but in all real estate related transactions (including commercial real estate transactions). The Acts also prohibit discrimination based on race, color, national, origin, age, religion, sex, marital status; or handicap status. Persons with complaints of unlawful discrimination may seek redress through the Michigan Department of Civil Rights or they may file an action for injunctive relief, attorney fees and other damages in State Circuit Court.

MICHIGAN MORTGAGE LENDING PRACTICES ACT

This "anti-redlining" Act provides that a covered credit granting institution in Michigan may not discriminate in the provision of a loan because of the racial or ethnic characteristics of the neighborhood in which the real estate is located or the age of the structure or of other structures in the neighborhood in which the real estate is located. The Act designates the Financial Institutions Bureau (FIB) within the Michigan Department of Commerce as the administrative agency to implement and enforce the provisions of the Act. Persons with complaints of violations of the Act may file complaints with the FIB or file an action for injunctive relief and damages in State Circuit Court.

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The evidence from the housing discrimination complaints filed with FHCMD by home seekers, from the "testing" conducted by the FHCMD, and from the statements provided by many housing providers who support fair housing laws and are willing to step forward to help expose violations of those laws, demonstrates that practices of unlawful housing discrimination continue and the services of FHCMD are needed. Read more