The Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C.S. § 3604(c), is violated if an ad for housing suggests to an ordinary reader that a particular protected group is preferred or dispreferred for the housing in question. In applying the ordinary reader test, courts have not required that ads jump out at the reader with their offending message, but have found instead that the statute is violated by any ad that would discourage an ordinary reader of a particular protected group from answering it.
On a determination by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, an administrative law judge (ALJ) found that petitioner landlord had violated the Fair Housing Act by indicating a preference based on family status and on race in both print advertisements and interviews. Respondents, community council and rental tester, were awarded damages and attorney's fees and petitioner was enjoined from engaging in further acts of discrimination. On appeal, the court denied the petitions for review.
Where a housing ad would lead an ordinary reader to conclude that a protected group was discouraged, has a violation of the Fair Housing Act occurred?
There was substantial evidence to support the finding that petitioner's ad expressed to ordinary readers an unlawful preference based on family status. Petitioner's unlawful purpose based on race was also supported by the record due to the pointedness of his questions and the context in which the inquiries were made. The determination that an evidentiary hearing regarding attorney's fees was unnecessary was not an abuse of discretion because petitioner made no factual objections and his legal challenges were thoroughly addressed by the ALJ.