[T]he statute is violated by "any ad that would discourage an ordinary reader of a particular [protected group] from answering it."
Janck v. Department of Housing & Urban Development
Janck posted an ad for an apartment for a "mature person." The Leadership Council sent two volunteers, Gunderson and Allen, to "test" the property. When they called, Janck asked both tenants about their age, ethnicity, and whether they were black or white. The second, Allen, he also asked about her income, occupation, marital status, and whether she had any children or pets, because he "did not want anyone moving in who was loud, made a lot of noise and had children or pets." He said it was "wonderful" that she did not have any children or pets. Both showed up the next day to look at the property, but were told that it had already been rented.
Based on the reports by the testers, the Leadership Council filed an administrative complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development for violating section 804(c) of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3604(c), when he requested a "mature person" and when he indicated a preference on face and family status.
Did Janck's actions violate section 3604(c)'s prohibition against "indicat[ing] any preference . . . based on race, color, . . . familial status, or national origin, or an intention to make any such preference?"
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No showing of a subjective intent to discriminate is necessary to establish a violation, but evidence thereof does show whether the words in fact do so.
Janck plainly told Allen that he did not want any families with children and Gunderson that he did not want any teenagers in the building. These clearly suggest to an "ordinary" listener that he had a preference based on family status. Likewise his advertisement indicated his preference for a "mature person."
Janck also lied to prospective tenants with children by telling them that there was no school in the area, when there was. He also told an investigator that he turned away a single parent with a ten-year-old child.
While he did not expressly indicate a preference based on race, there is no legitimate reason for him to ask about that, and he asked in the middle of a conversation where he was asking other questions to discriminate based upon. This suggests to an ordinary listener that this was part of the same screening process. He pursued it with such determination that it was unlikely to be merely conversational as he contends. In addition, Janck never rented to a black tenant before the Leadership Council filed its complaint.
Yes, Janck's advertisement and statements expressed a preference in violation of section 804(c). Petitions for review denied.