Disparate Impact Under the Fair Housing Act: A Proposed Approach

Robert G. Schwemm

University of Kentucky - College of Law

Sara K. Pratt


March 23, 2010

The issue of whether the prohibitions of the federal Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) extend to practices that produce a discriminatory effect/impact – as well as those prompted by intentional discrimination – is still not fully resolved. While four decades of litigation have produced a strong consensus among the lower courts that the FHA does include an impact standard, the Supreme Court has never ruled on this issue, and defendants continue to contest it. The result is that courts must still deal with this issue, and, to the extent uncertainties remain, the effort to obtain voluntary compliance with the FHA without the need for expensive and time-consuming litigation is undermined.

As the agency primarily responsible for enforcing and interpreting the FHA, the Department of Housing & Urban Development (“HUD”) has a potentially decisive role to play in resolving this issue, because courts accord substantial deference to HUD’s interpretations of the FHA. With respect to the impact issue, HUD has regularly expressed the view in various contexts that the FHA includes such a standard, but the agency has not yet issued a formal regulation on this matter. HUD should do so now, in order to help clarify this issue for courts, litigants, and the public at large.

This Paper seeks to help facilitate this process by providing a detailed analysis of cases and other sources dealing with the impact issue under the FHA. Part I provides some background on this issue. The basic justification for HUD’s adopting an impact regulation is set forth in Part II. Part III discusses the scope and limits of the approach suggested here. Parts IV and V analyze the respective burdens of proofs for plaintiffs and defendants in impact cases under the FHA, thereby describing the particular circumstances that would be appropriate for impact-based claims. Finally, the two appendices provide, respectively, possible language for such a regulation and examples of impact-producing practices that might violate the FHA.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 41

Keywords: Housing Discrimination, Fair Housing, Civil Rights, Housing, Disparate Impact

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Date posted: March 30, 2010  

Suggested Citation

Schwemm, Robert G. and Pratt, Sara K., Disparate Impact Under the Fair Housing Act: A Proposed Approach (March 23, 2010). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1577291 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1577291

Contact Information

Robert G. Schwemm (Contact Author)
University of Kentucky - College of Law ( email )
620 S. Limestone Street
Lexington, KY 40506-0048
United States
Sara K. Pratt
Consultant ( email )
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