The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that it has charged Bank of America, N.A., and two of its employees with violating the Fair Housing Act by discriminatory lending practices against prospective Hispanic mortgage borrowers in Charleston, South Carolina. Read HUD’s charge.
The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to deny or discriminate in the terms and conditions of a mortgage or loan modification based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. [In addition to the protected classes defined in the Fair Housing Act, the New York State Human Rights Law also prohibits discrimination based on Marital status, Sexual orientation, Age (18 and older), Military status, or Creed. Nassau County and Suffolk County local laws prohibit discrimination based on source of income (for example: public assistance, Section 8, Social Security Disability, Social Security, or court ordered child support). Suffolk County also prohibits discrimination based on alienage or citizenship status, veteran status, or status as a victim of domestic violence.]
“Today’s charge reflects our nation’s promise of fair housing and equal access to credit for qualified families, regardless of their national origin,” said Gustavo Velasquez, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “HUD will continue working to ensure that lenders fulfill their obligation under the law to treat all applicants equally.”
The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) filed a complaint with HUD claiming the bank discriminated against prospective borrowers who are Hispanic by failing to provide them with information about loan products or by offering them loan products with less attractive terms, as compared to prospective borrowers who are not Hispanic. Prior to filing its complaint, NFHA conducted a series of tests comparing the treatment of Hispanic and non-Hispanic testers who posed as prospective borrowers at a Bank of America branch in Charleston, South Carolina. HUD’s charge alleges that these tests showed that the bank discriminated because of national origin by treating the Hispanic testers less favorably than the non-Hispanic testers.
The case will be heard in federal district court. If it is determined that illegal discrimination has occurred, a judge may award actual and punitive damages, order injunctive or other equitable relief to deter further discrimination, and order that defendants pay NFHA’s attorney fees.
People who believe they have experienced discrimination may file a complaint by contacting HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at (800) 669-9777 (voice) or (800) 927-9275 (TTY). Housing discrimination complaints may also be filed at www.hud.gov/fairhousing or by downloading HUD’s free housing discrimination mobile application, which can be accessed through Apple and Android devices. [People who believe that they have experienced housing discrimination who live in Nassau or Suffolk Counties, can contact Long Island Housing Services at 631-567-5111 ext 375. You can find out more about our Fair Housing enforcement program here.]