More than 40 years after passage of the federal Fair Housing Act, housing discrimination continues to harm millions of Americans. The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (families with children under 18) and disability. The Fair Housing Ordinance of the City of Durham is substantially equivalent to the federal law and offers the same protections against housing discrimination.
The fair housing laws cover many kinds of housing transactions, including rentals, home sales, advertising, residential mortgage lending, homeowners’ insurance, home improvement financing and zoning. If you believe you were a victim of housing discrimination, you have a right to file a housing discrimination complaint. Contact the City of Durham’s Human Relations Division at 919-560-4107, email [email protected], or visit www.durhamhumanrelations.com for information about filing a complaint.
How to File a Complaint
Housing discrimination complaints may be filed for up to one year after the discriminatory housing practice occurs or ends. However, it is best to file your complaint as soon as possible. Contact Human Relations and provide your name, address, the name and address of the person you are complaining about, the address or description of the housing, a short statement of why you think your rights were violated and the date the incident occurred.
If the incident occurred over 1 year ago, but less than 2 years ago, you must file your complaint in a court of law. If the incident happened more than 2 years ago, you might be denied the opportunity to file a complaint. The sooner you file your complaint, the greater the chances to vindicate housing discrimination.
Complaints accepted for investigation are dual-filed with HUD. Upon HUD’s approval to proceed with the investigation, a Human Relations Specialists will be assigned to conduct a neutral investigation which includes an interview of all parties and witnesses, collection of documents and data, and on-site visits when warranted. This process shall take no more than 100 days, unless impracticable, and concludes with a finding of Reasonable Cause or No Reasonable Cause to conclude that discrimination occurred as alleged. Investigations concluding with a finding of No Reasonable Cause are dismissed. However, Reasonable Cause findings result in an issuance of a charge of discrimination and are referred to the City’s Legal Department for further processing which may include an administrative hearing.
While we investigate your complaint, we will at the same time try to help you reach a conciliation agreement with the other party (the respondent.) The term "Conciliation" means the attempt to resolve issues raised in a complaint, or arising during the investigation of a complaint, through informal negotiations between the parties of the complaint. The Human Relations Specialists will inform the parties of this voluntary process of resolving the complaint. An approved and fully-executed Conciliation Agreement terminates the investigation of the complaint. By entering into a Conciliation Agreement, the respondent avoids liability on the facts of the complaint by agreeing to provide individual relief for the aggrieved person, and appropriate public interest relief as imposed by the City (and as approved by HUD). The complainant agrees to accept the relief provided by the terms of the Conciliation Agreement, in exchange for giving up his or her potential right to pursue relief granted through an administrative hearing or a civil trial.
The Administrative Hearing
If the evidence shows that an act of discrimination occurred, the Parties may opt to have an administrative hearing, proceed to a court of law, or attempt to conciliate. Administrative hearings are conducted by the Durham Human Relations Commission’s hearings board. Each side presents evidence including, when appropriate, testimony from witnesses. The hearings board will issue a decision that is subject to review by a court. If the hearings board finds that a respondent has engaged or is about to engage in a discriminatory housing practice, it shall promptly enter an order which may include civil penalties ranging from $10,000 to $50,000. .
Bringing Your Own Lawsuit
Within two years after a discriminatory housing practice has occurred or terminated, you can also bring a civil lawsuit at your own expense in Federal District Court. You retain this right even if you have filed a complaint, provided you have not signed a conciliation agreement or an administrative hearing has not begun. If you cannot afford to hire an attorney, you may seek assistance from your local legal aid organization or ask the court to appoint an attorney for you. Legal aid organizations exist in many communities to provide low-income people with free (pro bono) legal counsel.
For More Information
Contact the City of Durham Human Relations Division. Call Human Relations at 919-560-4107, email [email protected], or visit www.durhamfairhousing.com to file a complaint or get answers to your fair housing questions.