Filing a Fair Housing Complaint

Parts of the following are excerpted from: "Fair Housing; It's Your Right", a 1993 brochure from the Department of  Housing and Urban Development. Finding a private advocacy organization

If you feel that your fair housing rights have been violated and you wish to file a complaint, look first for a private advocacy organization in your area.  A large part of the mission of such organizations is to assist people who have been discriminated against get through the complaint process.  Their services are free and generally you will get a much quicker initial response than if you choose to file with HUD.  You can find private fair housing advocacy organizations in your area with our agency finder.

If there is not a private fair housing advocacy agency in your area, you can file your complaint directly with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  That process is described in the following sections.

If you think your rights have been violated

HUD is ready to help with any problem of housing discrimination.  If you think your rights have been violated, you may fill out a Housing Discrimination Complaint Form, write HUD a letter, telephone the HUD Hotline, or fill out the online complaint form at the HUD website.  You have one year after an alleged violation to file a complaint with HUD, but you should file it as soon as possible.

What to Tell HUD:

  • Your name and address
  • The name and address of the person your complaint is against (the respondent)
  • The address or other identification of the housing involved
  • A short description of the alleged violation (the event that caused you to believe your rights were violated)
  • The date(s) of the alleged violation

Where to Write:

Send the Housing Discrimination Complaint Form or a letter to the HUD regional office nearest you (addresses on the complaint form) or to:

Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Room 5204
Washington, D.C. 20410-2000

You can also write to this address if you require a blank complaint form, or you may visit your local HUD office.  You may also fill out the online complaint form at the HUD website.

Where to Call:

If you wish, you may use the toll-free Hotline number: 1-800-669-9777.  (In Washington, D.C. call 708-0836.)

If You Are Disabled HUD also Provides:

  • A toll-free TDD phone for the hearing impaired: 1-800-927-9275.  (In Washington, D.C. call 708-0836.)
  • Interpreters
  • Tapes and Braille materials
  • Assistance in reading and completing forms

What Happens When You File A Complaint?

  • HUD will notify you when it receives your complaint.  Normally, HUD also will:
  • Notify the alleged violator of your complaint and permit that person to submit an answer
  • Investigate your complaint and determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe the Fair Housing Act has been violated
  • Notify you if it cannot complete an investigation within 100 days of receiving your complaint

Conciliation:

HUD will try to reach an agreement with the person your complaint is against (the respondent).  A conciliation agreement must protect both you and the public interest.   If an agreement is signed, HUD will take no further action on your complaint.   However, if HUD has reasonable cause to believe that a conciliation agreement is breached, HUD will recommend that the Attorney General file suit.

Complaint Referrals:

If HUD has determined that your state or local agency has the same fair housing powers as HUD, HUD will refer your complaint to that agency for investigation and notify you of the referral.  That agency must begin work on your complaint within 30 days or HUD will take it back.

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 violation, HUD may be able to assist you as soon as you file a complaint.   HUD may authorize the Attorney General to go to court to seek temporary or preliminary relief, pending the outcome of the complaint, if:

  • Irreparable harm is likely to occur without HUD's intervention
  • There is substantial evidence that a violation of the Fair Housing Act 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 HUD.   HUD may authorize the Attorney General to go to court to prevent a sale to any other buyer until HUD investigates the complaint.

What Happens After a Complaint Investigation?

If, after investigating your complaint, HUD finds reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred, it will inform you.  Your case will be heard in an administrative hearing within 120 days, unless you or the respondent want 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 HUD attorneys will litigate the case on your behalf.  You may intervene in the case and be represented by your own attorney if you wish.  An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will consider evidence from your 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 Federal 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 Attorney General 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.