HUD Signals Renewed Focus on Fair Housing Enforcement

April is Fair Housing Month, and HUD declared this year’s theme to be Fair Housing: More Than Just Words. The theme underscores the Biden administration’s commitment to advancing equity in housing and securing equal access to housing opportunities for all.

In other words: Fair Housing Act enforcement is a priority at HUD.

By the numbers: In 2021, HUD and its Fair Housing Assistance Program partner agencies received more than 8,500 complaints alleging discrimination based on one or more of the Fair Housing Act's seven protected classes: race, color, national origin, religion, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), family status, and disability. Last year, the categories with the highest number of complaints were disability and race, respectively. HUD also received complaints alleging lending discrimination and numerous complaints from women who faced sexual harassment.

Not all discrimination complaints go through HUD; some tenants and applicants file their complaints with local agencies and state courts. On average, 25,000 to 30,000 fair housing complaints are filed against landlords in the U.S. each year.

What you need to know: You may think that as long as you obey all the laws, you have nothing to worry about. Unfortunately, that’s not always true. Even if you do everything by the book, you still face the risk of getting hit with a discrimination lawsuit.

Thus, while preventing complaints is the primary objective of compliance, you also have to be prepared to respond if and when somebody files a complaint against you. And the key to effective response is knowing what to do when a HUD investigator comes calling.

Recognize that the ultimate outcome will be determined not simply by the merits of the case—that is, whether you actually committed the alleged discrimination—but also how you handle the complaint and investigation process. Even if an allegation is false, you can still get into trouble by botching the process; conversely, if the case against you is strong, handling the complaint and investigation process effectively can help you minimize the damage.

For an explanation of how the HUD fair housing complaint process works, what to expect at each stage, and how to respond effectively, see the Coach’s May lesson, “7 Pitfalls to Avoid When Responding to Fair Housing Complaints,” available to premium subscribers here.