Is it against the Fair Housing Act (FHA) to require a tenant to show proof that they are in the country illegally? According to some
social justice warriors lawyers in Fairfax County, Virginia, yes, yes it is.
The Washington Post reports that four families of Latino descent are suing the owner of the Waples Mobile Home Park because of a policy requiring every tenant to have documentation proving their legal status.
Enter the lawyers:
Attorneys for the families are alleging that the requirement for all tenants to have a Social Security card, visa and related documents or a passport is discriminatory because it disproportionately affects Latinos. Similar policies imposed by cities and counties across the country have been overturned in federal courts but few, if any, suits have been filed against private landlords, the attorneys said.
“This type of discrimination is all too common, but the law is unfortunately far from clear,” said Ivy Finkenstadt, managing attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) which is representing the families along with the law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan. “We are hoping that the federal court in Alexandria will take it one step further and prohibit this practice by a private landlord as well.”
The local ABC affiliate in Washington DC says the lawyers are claiming the landlord is in violation of the Fair Housing Act:
The suit claims that this policy is a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act, the Virginia Fair Housing law and is intentionally discriminatory of non-U.S. citizens.
One of the families says they have already had to leave their home in the park. “I have been sick from the stress of what happened at Waples,” says former tenant Rosy Giron de Reyes in a statement from LAJC.
So, according to the LAJC, the same questions an employer is required to ask a potential employee about their legal status in the United States constitute a civil violation if they are asked by a landlord to a potential tenant. This is an example of lawyers using the court system to re-write existing law to fit with their own social agenda.
Standard legal advice available to any landlord states that it is, in fact, not a violation of the FHA, provided every tenant is required to provide proof of legal status, regardless of the potential tenants race or national origin: (NOLO)
While it’s illegal to discriminate against a tenant based on their national origin, landlords in most states are allowed to ask applicants for proof of identity and eligibility to work under U.S. immigration laws, such as a passport or naturalization certificate, using Form I-9 (Employment Eligibility Verification) of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This form and instructions for completing it are available on the USCIS website.
While asking applicants to provide documentation of their citizenship status during the screening process, and rejecting those who can not provide such documentation, does not violate the federal Fair Housing Act, you may not selectively ask for immigration information—that is, you must ask all prospective tenants, not just those you suspect to be in the country illegally.
What’s clearly at play here is the same trend we’ve seen with the Justice Department re-writing the Civil Rights act and Title IX to cover perceived discrimination against transgender individuals. Or President Obama re-writing immigration laws to accommodate his desire to legalize millions of non-citizens because he believes it’s “the right thing to do.”
This is exactly the same thing. The FHA means something very specific. It meant what it meant when it was passed by congress and signed into law in 1968 (later revised in 1988.) Now, through the judicial branch of government activists are attempting to have that law mean something entirely different. And, they will quite possibly succeed if they find the right judge.
The question is, what will Congress do about it?