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Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, family status, or disability. The FHA is enforced by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

If You Think Your Rights Have Been Violated

Call the Charleston Area Urban League Fair Housing Landlord/Tenant center at 843-300-5246 (Fair Housing Hotline). We can help you with counseling and steps to follow in the Charleston MSA area. HUD (The Department of Housing and Urban Development) or SCHAC (South Carolina Human Affairs Commission) are ready to help with any problem of housing discrimination. If you think your rights have been violated, you have one year after an alleged violation to file a complaint, but you should file it as soon as possible.

What to Tell:

  • Your name and address

  • The name and address of the person your complaint is against (the respondent)

  • The address or other identification to the housing involved

  • A short description of the alleged violation (the event that caused you to believe your rights were violated)

  • The date(s) to the alleged violation

If You Are Disabled:

HUD also provides:

  • A toll-free TTY phone for the hearing impaired: 1-800-927-9275.

  • Interpreters

  • Tapes and braille materials

  • Assistance in reading and completing forms

What Happens when You File a Complaint?

HUD will notify you when it receives your complaint. Normally:


  • Notify the alleged violator of your complaint and permit that person to submit an answer

  • Investigate your complaint and determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe the Fair Housing Act has been violated

  • Notify you if it cannot complete an investigation within 100 days of receiving your complaint


HUD will try to reach an agreement with the person your complaint is against (the respondent). A conciliation agreement must protect both you and the public interest. If an agreement is signed, HUD will take no further action on your complaint. However, if HUD has reasonable cause to believe that a conciliation agreement is breached, HUD will recommend that the Attorney General file suit.

Complaint Referrals

If HUD has determined that your State or local agency has the same fair housing powers as HUD, HUD will refer your complaint to that agency for investigation and notify you of the referral. That agency must begin work on your complaint within 30 days or HUD may take it back. SCHAC (South Carolina Human Affairs Commission) is South Carolina’s State agency.

What if You Need Help Quickly?


If you need immediate help to stop a serious problem that is being caused by a Fair Housing Act violation, HUD may be able to assist you as soon as you file a complaint. HUD may authorize the Attorney General to go to court to seek temporary or preliminary relief, pending the outcome of your complaint, if:

  • Irreparable harm is likely to occur without HUD's intervention

  • There is substantial evidence that a violation of the Fair Housing Act occurred


Example: A builder agrees to sell a house but, after learning the buyer is black, fails to keep the agreement. The buyer files a complaint with HUD. HUD may authorize the Attorney General to go to court to prevent a sale to any other buyer until HUD investigates the complaint.

What Happens after a Complaint Investigation?

If, after investigating your complaint, HUD finds reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred, it will inform you. Your case will be heard in an administrative hearing within 120 days, unless you or the respondent want the case to be heard in Federal district court. Either way, there is no cost to you.

The Administrative Hearing:

If your case goes to an administrative hearing HUD attorneys will litigate the case on your behalf. You may intervene in the case and be represented by your own attorney if you wish. An Administrative Law Judge (ALA) will consider evidence from you and the respondent. If the ALA decides that discrimination occurred, the respondent can be ordered:

  • To compensate you for actual damages, including humiliation, pain and suffering.

  • To provide injunctive or other equitable relief, for example, to make the housing available to you.

  • To pay the Federal Government a civil penalty to vindicate the public interest. The maximum penalties are $16,000 for a first violation and $65,000 for a third violation within seven years.

  • To pay reasonable attorney's fees and costs.

Federal District Court

If you or the respondent choose to have your case decided in Federal District Court, the Attorney General will file a suit and litigate it on your behalf. Like the ALA, the District Court can order relief, and award actual damages, attorney's fees and costs. In addition, the court can award punitive damages.

In Addition

You May File Suit: You may file suit, at your expense, in Federal District Court or State Court within two years of an alleged violation. If you cannot afford an attorney, the Court may appoint one for you. You may bring suit even after filing a complaint, if you have not signed a conciliation agreement and an Administrative Law Judge has not started a hearing. A court may award actual and punitive damages and attorney's fees and costs.

Other Tools to Combat Housing Discrimination:

If there is noncompliance with the order of an Administrative Law Judge, HUD may seek temporary relief, enforcement of the order or a restraining order in a United States Court of Appeals.

The Attorney General may file a suit in a Federal District Court if there is reasonable cause to believe a pattern or practice of housing discrimination is occurring.

*Source HUD