Today marked the close of public comments on proposed federal guidance issued by the Obama Administration formalizing harassment investigations and corporate accountability under the federal Fair Housing Act.
The proposed rule’s implications have real implications for fair housing in greater New Orleans. For example, such guidance would have applied to Michael and Denise Thornton, a Metairie couple who were victims of housing discrimination when they were denied the right to rent solely on the basis of their race. Last month, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) reached a $172,500 settlement on their behalf, citing as evidence a written record of the harassment kept by the landlords [insert hyperlink to doc here], a document riddled with racial epithets and derogatory slurs.
“Mr. and Mrs. Thornton’s case provides us with rare written evidence of the kinds of harassment addressed in the proposed fair housing standards,” noted Cashauna Hill, Executive Director of GNOFHAC. “Unfortunately, our office hears about local examples of this type of harassment all too frequently, and we’re glad to see new national measures to address discriminatory housing practices like the Thorntons faced.”
“When our daughter left for college, we just wanted to move to a home closer to our work,” said Denise Thornton, plaintiff in the case. “But when we were denied the opportunity to apply for the apartment, it just didn’t feel right, so we called the Fair Housing Center. Their investigation confirmed that it was a case of blatant, illegal housing discrimination.”
The suit alleged the landlords Brion, Jappy and John Ebey Jr. and Lime Investment Co. violated the federal Fair Housing Act by repeatedly misrepresenting the availability of their properties to African American renters. The defendants also maintained a written log of all prospective renters that was littered with racial epithets to identify those who were African American, including several “undercover shoppers” GNOFHAC sent to investigate the matter.
Until now, courts have been left to interpret the legal threshold for harassment, but the new rule will finally offer clear direction on this point. The proposed rule also formalizes corporate responsibility for misconduct.