Fair Housing vs. Unfair Housing

Do you know the difference?

Knowing the difference between fair housing and unfair housing isn't as obvious as you might think. This blog aims to present a variety of important and interesting fair housing issues.

If you're an apartment professional, avoid costly mistakes by reading the stories of others who — even with good intentions — learned compliance lessons the hard way. (For the easy way, click here.)

If you live in an apartment, get familiar with your rights when it comes to housing discrimination, as well as your options for seeking justice.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Comedian Not Laughing Over Alleged Racial Discrimination

Often enough, people who put their homes up for sale decide to stay put after all. If you're in this situation and you haven't yet signed a contract, you should be on good legal footing if you change your mind for a legitimate reason — for example, you can't find another suitable home and you want to keep your children in the current school district.

These are the reasons the sellers of a luxury home in Bridgeport, Illinois gave for suddenly not wanting to sell their house after verbally accepting a $1.7 million counteroffer from comedian George Willborn and his family.

But the Willborns aren't buying it. They believe that the sellers decided not to go through with the deal because they're black, in violation of the Fair Housing Act's (FHA) race-based discrimination ban. In January, the Willborns complained to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), pointing out that the sellers had been trying to sell the house for two years and that their counteroffer was very close to the $1.799 million asking price (reduced from an initial listing of $1.99 million).

HUD issued a charge of discrimination in early August, and the Willborns then elected to have the issue resolved in a federal civil lawsuit. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently announced that it filed this suit, which seeks unspecified damages against the sellers and their real estate agents.

According to the lawsuit and the initial HUD charge, the sellers told their real estate agents early on that they would prefer not to sell their home to a black family but would do it for the right price.

In addition to the DOJ lawsuit, the Willborns also filed a private federal suit against the sellers last month, seeking $100 million in damages, according to NBC.

If the allegations are all true, how much should the sellers and their agents be ordered to pay for their violations? Are punitive damages appropriate here?

What do you think?

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