Court reaffirms fair-housing fight

July 07, 2015
The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in June affirming the use of "disparate impact" lawsuits to combat housing discrimination breathes new life into an important standard for protecting the rights of racial minorities, people with disabilities, families with children, and other victims of discrimination.
     The court could have robbed the Fair Housing Act of the disparate-impact standard but instead decided the Texas v. Inclusive Communities Project case in a way that reinforces protections for disadvantaged participants in the real estate market. Pennsylvania has been the site of numerous important disparate-impact cases, and the court's decision makes possible new challenges to discrimination against renters and home buyers.
     The disparate-impact standard bars housing practices that are harmful mainly to protected groups, even if there's no intentional discrimination. For example, the Housing Equality Center sued an apartment complex in West Chester that threatened to evict a mother, father, and young child from their two-bedroom apartment when the mother became pregnant again because the apartment complex had a policy that no more than three people could occupy a two-bedroom apartment. Needless occupancy restrictions like this primarily hurt families with children, a protected group under the Fair Housing Act. As a result of the lawsuit, the complex began permitting families of four to live in two-bedroom units.