WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ( HUD ) has announced that it is charging the owners of a single-family home in Gibsonton, Florida with violating the Fair Housing Act for engaging in discriminatory housing practices, including reneging on their agreement to rent the house to a mother and her children because they are African American. HUD’s charge also alleges that the owners used racial slurs when referring to and addressing the family.
The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to, among other things, discriminate because of race or color in the rental of housing, make discriminatory statements with respect to the rental of housing, or coerce, intimidate, threaten, or interfere with others in their exercise or enjoyment of their right to fair housing.
“Discrimination does not deserve a home in America,” said John Trasviña, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “All Families have a right to live wherever they choose without being subjected to unfair treatment.”
HUD’s investigation found that Robert and Katherine Cairns initially agreed to rent a house they own to an African-American mother and her three minor children. Two days after the family moved in, however, Robert Cairns refused to accept their rent payment, ordered the children out of the house while their mother was at work, and changed the locks on the house. The children were later found by a relative about a quarter of a mile from the house, under a highway underpass.
When the mother contacted the local police to report the incident and regain access to the house, Mrs. Cairns allegedly said, “I can’t believe you [‘n-word’]s called the police on me. You [‘n-word]s make me sick. I just want you [‘n-word’]s out of my house.” The Cairns subsequently rented the house to another tenant.
The HUD charge will be heard by a United States Administrative Law Judge unless any party to the charge elects to have the case heard in federal district court. If an administrative law judge finds after a hearing that discrimination has occurred, he or she may award damages to aggrieved persons for the damages they suffered from the discrimination. The judge may also order injunctive and other equitable relief to deter further discrimination, as well as payment of attorney fees. In addition, the judge may impose fines in order to vindicate the public interest. If the matter is decided in federal court, the judge may also award punitive damages to aggrieved persons.
HUD's mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD is working to strengthen the housing market to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes: utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination; and transform the way HUD does business.