Fair Housing Discrimination
What is Fair Housing?
The Fair Housing Act, Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, and Pinellas County Chapter 70 prohibit discrimination in housing because of:
- Race or color.
- National origin.
- Sexual orientation (Complaints Jurisdictional to Chapter 70 PCC only).
- Familial status (including children under the age of 18 living with parents or legal custodians; pregnant women and people securing custody of children – under 18).
- Handicap (Disability).
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which has the authority and responsibility to enforce these anti-discrimination provisions, has determined that the Pinellas County Office of Human Rights Fair Housing Ordinance is equivalent to Title VIII. Therefore, if you file a complaint, HUD will refer it to the Pinellas County Office of Human Rights for investigation and notify you of the referral. The Office of Human Rights must then begin work on your complaint within 30 days or HUD may take it back.
What Housing Is Covered?
The Fair Housing Act and Pinellas County Ordinance Chapter 70 covers most housing. In some circumstances, the Act and local ordinance exempt owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, single-family housing sold or rented without the use of a broker, and housing operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members.
What is Prohibited?
In the Sale and Rental of Housing:
The following actions may not be taken based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, familial status or handicap:
- Refusing to rent or sell housing
- Refusing to negotiate for housing
- Making housing unavailable
- Denying a dwelling
- Setting different terms, conditions, or privileges for sale or rental of a dwelling
- Providing different housing services or facilities
- Falsely denying that housing is available for inspection, sale or rental
- Persuading owners to sell or rent for profit (blockbusting)
- Denying anyone access to or membership in a facility or service (such as a multiple listing service) related to the sale or rental of housing
In Mortgage Lending:
The following actions may not be taken based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation (Chapter 70 PCC only), familial status or handicap (disability):
- Refusing to make a mortgage loan
- Refusing to provide information regarding loans
- Imposing of different terms or conditions on a loan, such as different interest rates, points, or fees
- Discriminating in appraising property
- Refusing to purchase a loan
- Setting different terms or conditions for purchasing a loan
What is Illegal?
It is illegal for anyone to:
- Threaten, coerce, intimidate or interfere with anyone exercising a fair housing right or assisting others who exercise that right.
- Advertise or make any statement that indicates a limitation or preference based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap. This prohibition against discriminatory advertising applies to single-family and owner-occupied housing otherwise exempt from the Fair Housing Act and Pinellas County Ordinance Chapter 70.
Additional Protection If You Have a Disability
If you or someone associated with you:
- Has a physical or mental disability (including hearing, mobility and visual impairments, chronic alcoholism, chronic mental illness, AIDS, AIDS Related Complex and mental retardation) that substantially limits one or more major life activities
- Has a record of such a disability; or,
- Is regarded as having such a disability
Your landlord may NOT:
- Refuse to let you make reasonable modifications to your dwelling or common use areas, at your expense if necessary, for the disabled person to use the housing. (Where reasonable, the landlord may permit changes only if you agree to restore the property to its original condition when you move.)
- Refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services if necessary for the disabled person to use the housing.
- Example: A building with a “no pets” policy must allow a visually impaired tenant to keep a guide dog.
- Example: An apartment complex that offers tenants ample, unassigned parking must honor a request from a mobility-impaired tenant for a reserved space near her apartment if necessary to assure that she can have access to her apartment.
However, housing does not need to be made available to a person who is a direct threat to the health or safety of others or who currently uses illegal drugs.
Requirements for New Buildings
In buildings that were ready for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, that have an elevator and four or more units, public and common areas must be accessible to persons with disabilities and doors and hallways must be wide enough for wheelchairs.
All units must have:
- An accessible route into and through the unit.
- Accessible light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other environmental controls.
- Reinforced bathroom walls to allow later installation of grab bars.
- Kitchens and bathrooms that can be used by people in wheelchairs.
If a building with four or more units has no elevator and was ready for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, these standards apply to ground floor units. These requirements for new buildings do not replace any more stringent standards in State or local law.
Housing Opportunities For Families: 55+ and 62+ Housing Communities
Unless a building or community qualifies as housing for older persons, it may not discriminate based on familial status. That is, it may not discriminate against families in which one or more children under 18 live with:
- A parent.
- A person who has legal custody of the child or children.
- The designee of the parent or legal custodian with their written permission.
Familial status protection also applies to pregnant women and anyone securing legal custody of a child under 18.
Housing for older persons is exempt from the prohibition against familial status discrimination if:
- The HUD Secretary has determined it is specifically designed for and occupied by elderly persons under a Federal, State or local government program.
- It is occupied solely by persons who are 62 or older.
- It houses at least one person who is 55 or older in at least 80% of the occupied units and adheres to a policy that demonstrates an intent to house persons who are 55 or older.
How to File a Complaint
If you think your rights have been violated, the Office of Human Rights is ready to help with any problem of housing discrimination. You may write a letter or call the office. You have one year after an alleged violation to file a complaint with HUD or the Office of Human Rights, but you should file it as soon as possible.
Submit an online Housing Discrimination Questionnaire or send a letter to:
Pinellas County Office of Human Rights
400 S. Ft. Harrison Ave., 5th Floor
Clearwater, FL 33756
- Telephone — 727-464-4880 or 727-552-2590
- Fax — 727-464-5298
- TDD —727-464-4062
- Contact Us
You will need to provide the office with your name and address, the name and address of the person your complaint is against, the address or other identification of the housing involved and a short description and date(s) of the alleged violation.
If you are disabled, HUD and the Office of Human Rights also provide:
- A toll-free TTY phone for the hearing impaired: HUD 1-800-927-9275, local Office of Human Rights TTY: (727) 464-4062.
- Tapes and Braille materials.
- Assistance in reading and completing forms.
Complaint Intake Process
The following is an explanation of what you can expect regarding how your complaint will be reviewed.
- You should expect a call, letter or email from the intake officer within 10 days from the date we receive your complaint. The review process may take several weeks from initial contact but usually does not.
- All complaints received are NOT accepted and referred for investigation.
- The Intake Branch does NOT communicate or make contact with the person(s) you are complaining about during the review process.
- We do NOT advocate or represent you (the complainant(s)) or the person(s) you are complaining about (respondent(s)).
- Intake will conduct a review of your complaint to determine if the issue(s) presented would be covered under the Fair Housing Act and Fair housing laws.
- If necessary, you may be asked to provide specific information and documentation by Intake to determine whether your complaint can be accepted;
Complaints NOT Accepted for Investigation
If after reviewing your complaint and documents, it is not accepted for referral for investigation:
- You will receive correspondence giving you the reason(s) why your complaint was not accepted for investigation;
- In some instances, we may refer you to a different HUD Office or outside agency that may be able to help you;
Complaints Accepted and Referred for Investigation
If your complaint is accepted and referred for investigation:
- The Intake Analyst will prepare the formal complaint for your signature. The summary of allegations will be written in a different format from the information you originally provided.
- The complaint will include your name and address, the name(s) of the persons living in the unit, the names of the persons alleged to have violated the Act and the owner and management agent for the property.
- You should review the document carefully to ensure that it is consistent with your allegations, sign it and return it to the Intake Analyst as soon as possible (ASAP). If you do not agree with the summary of allegations, do NOT write on the actual document, you should contact the Intake Analyst ASAP to make corrections.
- If you do not return the signed complaint your case will NOT be referred for investigation, therefore, it will be closed due to your failure to respond.
- Upon receipt of the signed complaint, the case will be assigned and the Intake Analyst will no longer be responsible for your file; All communication should be with the assigned investigator.
- You and the person(s) you complained about will receive a formal letter giving you the case name, number and the contact information for the office assigned to investigate your case.
- The assigned investigator will then contact you and the person(s) or organization you complained about.
- You should keep all documents, evidence and witness contact information related to your complaint in a safe place in the event the assigned investigator needs them. You may be also requested to provide a timeline and other information to support your complaint.
- The assigned investigator will discuss options for settlement of your case.
What Happens When You File A Complaint?
HUD and the Office of Human Rights will notify you when they receive your complaint. Normally, they will also:
- Notify the alleged violator of your complaint (Respondent) and permit that person to submit an answer.
- Investigate your complaint and determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe the Fair Housing Act and Pinellas County Ordinance Chapter 70 has been violated.
- Notify you if it cannot complete an investigation within 100 days of receiving your complaint.
The Office of Human Rights will try to reach an agreement with the person your complaint is against. A conciliation agreement must protect both you and the public interest. If an agreement is signed, HUD and the Office of Human Rights will take no further action on your complaint. However, if the Office of Human Rights has reasonable cause to believe that a conciliation agreement is breached, they will recommend that the County Attorney file suit.
What If You Need Help Quickly?
If you need immediate help to stop a serious problem that is being caused by a Fair Housing Act and Pinellas County Ordinance Chapter 70 violation, the Office of Human Rights may be able to assist you as soon as you file a complaint. They may authorize the County Attorney to go to court to seek temporary or preliminary relief, pending the outcome of your complaint, if:
- Irreparable harm is likely to occur without the Office of Human Rights’ intervention.
- There is substantial evidence that a violation of the Fair Housing Act and Pinellas County Ordinance Chapter 70 occurred.
Example: A builder agrees to sell a house but, after learning the buyer is black, fails to keep the agreement. The buyer files a complaint with the Office of Human Rights. The Office of Human Rights may authorize the County Attorney to go to court to prevent a sale to any other buyer until the Office of Human Rights investigates the complaint.
What Happens After A Complaint Investigation?
If, after investigating your complaint, the Office of Human Rights finds reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred, it will inform you. Your case will be heard in an Administrative Hearing unless you or the respondent wants the case to be heard in Federal District Court. Either way, there is no cost to you.
The Administrative Hearing
If your case goes to an Administrative Hearing, the Office of Human Rights attorneys will litigate the case on your behalf. You may intervene in the case and be represented by your own attorney. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will consider evidence from you and the respondent. If the ALJ decides that discrimination occurred, the respondent can be ordered:
- To compensate you for actual damages, including humiliation, pain and suffering. To provide injunctive or other equitable relief, for example, to make the housing available to you.
- To pay the County Government a civil penalty to vindicate the public interest. The maximum penalties are $10,000 for a first violation and $50,000 for a third violation within seven years.
- To pay reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.
Federal District Court
If you or the respondent choose to have your case decided in Federal District Court, the County Attorney will file a suit and litigate it on your behalf. Like the ALJ, the District Court can order relief and award actual damages, attorney’s fees and costs. In addition, the court can award punitive damages.
In addition, you may file suit, at your expense, in Federal District Court or State Court within two years of an alleged violation. If you cannot afford an attorney, the Court may appoint one for you. You may bring suit even after filing a complain if you have not signed a conciliation agreement and an Administrative Law judge has not started a hearing. A court may award actual and punitive damages and attorney’s fees and costs.
Other Tools to Combat Housing Discrimination
If there is noncompliance with the order of an Administrative Law Judge, the Office of Human Rights may seek temporary relief, enforcement of the order or a restraining order in a Court of law. The County Attorney may file a suit in a Federal District Court if there is reasonable cause to believe a pattern or practice of housing discrimination is occurring.